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Mindfulness Meditation: A Powerful Cleansing Tool

Meditaionjune

Matthieu Ricard, the so-called ‘happiest man in the world’, says: “If we can learn to ride a bike, we can learn to be happy.” He continues: “To be happy, we have to get rid of mental toxins, such as, hatred, obsession, arrogance, envy, greed and pride.”

Ricard suggests meditation as a way to free our mind from such mental toxins. He believes that meditation helps to create the inner space where the ‘antidote of toxins’ can grow. In other words, meditation has the potential to kick out negative feelings. Not only! It also facilitates the growth of the “mind-sickness’ antidote”: forgiveness, inner peace, humility, compassion, and even problem-solving capacity and creativity.

Here are the easy Five Steps to mindfulness meditation. It can be practiced anywhere and even for just a minute. Its effectiveness, however, requires constancy. Studies say that even just five minutes of mindfulness meditation, practised every day for a reasonably long period, is enough to positively affect a person’s overall well-being.

THE FIVE STEPS:

1. Location: If possible, find a quiet spot. If you are at home or in the chapel, try to ‘stick to the same spot’. Why stick to the same place? Because it helps to focus the mind and minimize the distractions of a changing environment. You can, however, practice mindfulness meditation anywhere.

2. Posture: Keep a straight spine with hands symmetrically placed. It does not matter whether you squat, sit on a chair or kneel down. What you need is to be straight without being rigid, relaxed but not sloppy, comfortable but not to the point of dozing off. The criterion for choosing your posture is to go for the one that you can keep comfortably for a longer period.

Regarding the posture, Mingyur Rinpoche, a meditation master, suggests imagining each part of our body resting on the one below, straight without worrying about ‘perfect’, resting but full of energy and strength.

3. Pre-meditation Preps: Keeping your eyes closed, acknowledge your surroundings, the noise, heat, smells, etc. It means paying non-judgemental attention to each, observing, making an effort to be in the now. Take three deep breaths.

4. Breath-awareness: First, find a ‘rhythm’ that suits you, for example, inhaling during four counts; keeping the breath in for seven counts; releasing the breath in eight counts and finally stillness (neither breathing in or out) for two counts. Go on with the cycle that suits you best for five minutes. Try keeping your mind focussed on your breath, on what happens to your body when you breathe.

5. Observe without judgement: Pay attention to your breath, to how you feel at the moment. Acknowledge all the other thoughts that occupy your mind without judging them or yourself. Don’t dwell on them either. As you become aware of them, just get back to your breath without hammering yourself for being distracted. Examples of distraction: thinking about food; sexual feelings or feelings of hurt. Never mind! Without feeling guilty for whatever creeps in, get back to your breathing.

At the end of the meditation, we open our eyes slowly and become present to what we feel in and out of our body.

As we said earlier, the benefits of mindfulness meditation come with constancy.

Another bonus is that, as we become ‘experts’ in the five-minute mindfulness meditation, we can also have quicker mindfulness meditation moments throughout the day. That means: wherever we are, we can pause and carry out the five steps.

Matthieu Ricard notes that, when we have a flash of anger or fear, when we undergo excessive stress or emotion, there follows some time during which we can’t think, rationalize or move on. These are the times when the pause of a quick mindfulness moment can help us get things in perspective. The same is suggested to deal with insomnia.

Once, when I was travelling by train, I heard a mother tell her teenage son, “Why don’t you do your meditation?”

I end by making the same invitation to you. Why not? Where not?


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From Inferiority Complex to Self-Confidence

Self-conf

 A very common problem many people face—with practical solutions. Information and tips for all of us, especially those in charge of helping others, such as parents, teachers, formators and superiors.

 Nineteen-year-old Sheila blushes easily, and hardly opens her mouth in groups. She feels embarrassed in new settings, and thinks that all the others are waiting to criticise her.

  • “No, ask somebody else,” replies Ravi to any invitation to speak in public. Some of his classmates consider Ravi a nice and unassuming guy, but others feel annoyed at his reluctance to take up any initiative.
  • Usha is always dressed in the latest and most fashionable type of clothes. She looks smart and confident, but few know that she is scared of being “beaten” by anyone else. Usha will feel lost without her expensive clothes and cosmetics.

All of us experience feelings of inadequacy and doubt our self-worth occasionally. This is normal. But, if my sense of inadequacy cuts me off from people, prevents me from giving my best, or makes me see others as a threat, it is high time I do something about it.

Feelings of inferiority start from the way others treat us. Most of our feelings about ourselves stem from how we were treated by significant people in our lives. The pet names, caresses, teasing, nicknames, fondling and neglect of our childhood years lead to positive or negative feelings in us.

Parents and other care-givers may easily forget that the greatest need of a child or adolescent is not a rank in class or expensive clothes, but the experience of being wanted, loved and appreciated. It is not our limitations that produce feelings of inferiority in us, but the way we feel about our limitations. and that, in its turn, depends mostly on how others (in our early years) reacted to our limitations.

REACTIONS TO INFERIORITY FEELINGS

There are basically two ways of reacting to feelings of inferiority: resignation and compensation.

Resignation is evident in the case of twenty-six-year-old Sr Janette, who works in a school office. Friends and superiors have tried to entrust more responsible jobs to her, but Janette feels convinced that she cannot do better. “I can’t, I am no good at it,” is her most spontaneous reaction.

Can people like Janette be helped? The answer is an emphatic Yes. She can be helped by others and still more by herself. What she needs is reassurance (in the form of sincere praise and encouragement), the experience of success (this is where she can help herself) and a change in perspective to see the good in herself.

Compensation

Some try to “compensate” for feelings of inadequacy. This can take place in a variety of ways, some of them helpful, others destructive.

Wilma Rudolph, the record-setting U.S. sprinter, had polio, and was left with a limp. She worked on her weak point and became a world-class champion. At the Rome Olympics (1960) she won three medals.

Motilal, a student I knew, was noted for his excellent physique and athletic prowess. When I expressed admiration for his physique, he told me that he had been puny and weak till the age of fourteen. With regular exercise, which involved a demanding schedule of work, rest and recreation, he turned his weak body into an athletic marvel.

That is why another type of compensation is more common. It is indirect, but no less commendable than the first type.

It is seen in Air Force Cadet Prasad, who was poor in sports and outdoor activities and felt inferior to the others. But soon he discovered a field in which he could achieve brilliance; he developed a fantastic memory for names, dates and figures, and became well known for his feats of memory.

A third type of compensation is the case of Robert. He is poor in studies and feels like a nobody at school. To get even, he has become defiant at home. At least this way he is taken notice of. Not very different is the approach taken by Jason. He is sixteen and strong enough to beat up the smaller boys. He is building up a new name – as a bully. He feels scared of bigger people, frightened before examinations. But he feels powerful in front of the children he is able to subdue.

Miriam has found another escape from her sense of inferiority. She does not understand much in a discussion and feels lost. To cover up her confusion, she starts arguing and never gives in. People have realized that it is no use discussing with Miriam. She just won’t give in or look at the other side of the argument. She has to win at all costs.

Jason, Robert, and Miriam have fallen into a dangerous trap—self-deception. Their attempt at escaping from an inferiority complex is by suppressing their real feelings. None of them faces up to the real problem – the sense of inadequacy and fear they experience. The inferiority complex remains, and may even get worse.

People who are obstinate like Miriam, or bullies like Jason, or defiant like Robert are basically very insecure people. Their self-confidence is abysmally low. They are afraid of being “found out” for what they really are. It is not strength but fear that pushes them into destructive behaviour. Unless they admit the real problem and tackle it, their lives will be marked by conflicts, violence and deep loneliness. When such people hold positions of power, they tend to treat those “under” them very harshly. They fear questions. They see personal attacks where there are none. It is a torment to work under an insecure leader who compensates by being a bully. This can happen in both religious and secular settings. After all, whatever the setting, the main factor is human beings dealing with other human beings.

FROM INFERIORITY TO CONFIDENCE

Here are eight practical steps for moving from inadequacy to self-confidence.

1. Find out the causes.

There are surely causes and aggravating factors—like cruel teasing, or unfair comparisons or constant nagging. It is not enough to say: “I think I suffer from an inferiority complex.” Ask yourself: In which area do I feel inadequate or inferior (or shy or afraid)? Nobody feels inferior in every area of life, nor confident in all fields.  Can I recall any particular episode or repeated experiences which triggered these feelings for the first time? Tracing the origin is half the solution.

2. Improve in your areas of weakness.

You may or may not be another Wilma Rudolph or another Motilal, but you can probably do a great deal to improve your present level of achievement – whether it be in health, studies, sports, public speaking or hobbies. And while you are at it, do not compare yourself unfavourably with others, saying, “Oh, I’m still behind so-and-so,” but rather take stock of the successes you achieve, however small they may be. Comparisons are put-downs. Success motivates people more than others’ encouragement.

3. Develop other talents.

You have them in plenty. We make use of only a small part (perhaps not even ten percent) of our resources. So, even if you do not succeed in one line, there are a hundred other fields in which you can succeed. As a general rule, concentrate on what you can do well—not on your mistakes. Thus, Susan does not shine in academics, but is wonderful in relating to people. Mohan is not a great public speaker, but many people approach him, since he is a great listener.

4. Never put yourself down.

Neither modesty nor good manners demands that. Be reasonably proud of—better, grateful for—your achievements and thank God for your talents and successes. People who have a healthy sense of their talents and worth do not stoop to boasting or bullying; the reason is they don’t feel inferior or hungry for attention. So, too, just because you made a mistake, don’t say, “I am stupid, I am useless.” You are not. Everyone makes mistakes. You can learn from them.

5. Set realistic goals.

One way of putting yourself down is to set unrealistic goals and aim at being perfect in a short while. If you will accept nothing but flawless performance from yourself (or others) you will feel frustrated and worthless.

6. Do not view others as rivals.

Each of us has unique talents and unique opportunities—and unique problems and limitations. Why add to our troubles by comparing ourselves with others and living only to compete and defeat? We cannot all shine in every field. So, do not take the other person’s success as a sign of your failure. Your worth is not measured by the number of people you feel superior to. It is something deeply personal.

7. Develop your own convictions.

If you are forever trying to please others, or to live up to their expectations, you will never feel secure or confident. Even the slightest sign of disapproval will be enough to throw you into consternation. If, instead of trying to impress others, you clarify your values and priorities, and devote yourself to something you really believe in, you will not only do much good. Your self-confidence will sky-rocket.

Doctor Steve, a friendly, helpful and competent person I used to know, is a vibrant proof of this belief. His self-esteem was so low, he told me, “that I could have crawled under a closed door.” He became a happy and outgoing person, engaged in helping others discover their worth. When I met him, he was an effective and caring counsellor.

This counsellor and others like him give encouraging confirmation to the view held by many experts that “you grow most where you are hurt most.”

8. Develop a faith-fuelled vision

God created you and put you on this earth for a mission. God has given you all the gifts you need for that mission. You are not a copy of someone else, and your task is not to look like others, or compete with them, or outshine anyone. You have more than enough gifts and opportunities to reach your goals, overcome your limitations, develop your potential, achieve more than you think.

You are blessed if you have a parent, teacher, counsellor, formator or religious superior who looks at you through this faith-fuelled vision. They will not compare you with others, or put you down for being less gifted than someone else, or focus on your weakness. No! They will remember their own journey of growth from fear to confidence and from insecurity to trust, and support you as you try to come out of your insecurities and face the world. Such persons are a blessing. They look at you through the loving eyes of God, and rejoice at your growth. They want you to grow, shine, get recognized. They are not jealous of your success. No! They long to build you up.

For God, each of us is an original, not a copy. Your worth lies in seeing yourself as God’s precious son or daughter, discovering the precious gifts God has given you, and using them to do the good you can. You know you are loved and cared for. You trust. You do not waste time comparing yourself with others.

Confidence, serenity and enthusiasm follow. Others’ gifts and success are not a threat to you. You are a person of unique worth—just like everyone else.

This living sense of your importance for God is the greatest source of self-confidence and inner strength—and a sure protection against anxiety, arrogance and unhealthy comparisons.

God does not create junk. Nor does God want us to see ourselves or treat ourselves as junk. The same goes for everyone one else, too.


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The Marvels Of Meditation

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A few years ago, a headline in The Hindu newspaper got my attention: “The happiest man in the world.”

I was intrigued. I found that the article was about Matthieu Ricard, a French scientist who had become a Buddhist monk. What made this scientist such a happy man?

In one word: Meditation.

This got me thinking:

  • How does meditation make a person so happy?
  • How can meditation ‘scientifically’ benefit my brain and my overall well-being?
  • How is it that we, who spend so much time in prayer, meditation, retreats, etc., look (and often are) so gloomy?

 Let’s look for some answers. We start with what science has to say about meditation.

 Mindfulness Meditation

First of all, the meditation that is taught or practiced for the various experiments is mostly what is called the “mindfulness meditation”. It consists in bringing the meditator’s attention to the internal and external experiences occurring in the present moment with closed eyes, straight back and breathing awareness.

Though this method is found in the Buddhist tradition, the early Christian Church talks of a similar way. This method is called the ‘vigilance of the mind and heart.’ The disciples are taught to be wakeful, attentive and vigilant to that which is inside and around.

And what can meditation possibly do to the brain?

 The Effects on the Brain

During experiments with experienced meditators it was found that, while they meditated, there was a decreased activity in the regions of the brain related to anxiety, depression and intolerance. No wonder those who meditate become more relaxed and happier.

 In a comparative study between experienced meditators and beginners, it was found that in the experienced ones, there was a greater activity in the brain’s areas corresponding to empathy than in the beginners’ one. In other words, those who meditate tend to understand others better, and feel for them.

 Here is one more finding, with practical consequences:

in a study done at Harvard University, USA, Sara Lazar and her team discovered that mindfulness meditation could actually change the structures of the brain. For example, they found that meditator’s brain showed enhanced connectivity between the brains regions; that it increased the thickness of the areas responsible for the regulation of emotions.

To put it differently, we master our emotions better if we meditate.

 Science is telling us that when we learn to meditate and do it regularly, it helps us not only at the spiritual level, but in our overall well-being.

 While regular meditation is not a substitute for medical advice and a healthy lifestyle, it brings a greater sense of wellbeing. Surprisingly, studies have found that even just five minutes of daily meditation are enough to make a positive change in one’s life.

 The Benefits of Meditation

Here are some of the benefits experienced by meditators:

  • Lower anxiety;
  • Decreased depression, fear, negative moods, sadness, tension, anger and stress;
  • Increased tolerance, positive feelings, empathy, compassion;
  • Improvement of the memory, concentration, self-awareness and goal setting;
  • Better immunity and tolerance to pain.

 It is not surprising, then, that someone like scientist Matthieu Ricard, who centres his life on meditation, is said to be the happiest man in the world. It does not mean that no one else is happier. Surely all the deeply happy people have not taken part in studies of this kind.  What it does show is that his way of living is ‘suited’ for happiness.

 Mathieu Ricard and many other meditators have found a path to happiness and serenity. Science has provided evidence for how this happens.

What about me? What about you? What are we getting out of meditation? What effects does it have on our life?

 Next month I’d like to honestly reflect on what goes on with our ‘time-tabled,” routine meditation. Why is it that, although we have so many opportunities to meditate, it does not seem to have a great positive impact on our lives? How far does it affect the way we relate with God and with each other?

 Want to see video clips on meditation, including what science tells us about it? There’s plenty on YouTube


– Sr. Marie Gabrielle Riopel SCSM is the provincial of the Sisters of Charity of Saint Mary.

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MEDITATION

meditation

The saints speak about it, the Buddhists speak about it, most major religions, spiritual movements and even scientific studies tell us how beneficial it is for the spiritual, mental and physical health….
Yes, but….. Yes, but we still often go through this half-hour or so hoping it’ll pass soon. While at it, we find our mind helplessly carried away by the tides of feelings, thoughts, preoccupations, boredom, sexual urges or fantasies.
If we are ‘lucky’, we put into practice Jesus’ invitation to go to Him and rest. Even St Therese of the Child Jesus struggled to keep awake during meditation. She even had to handle her growing annoyance at a sister who kept on loudly fingering her rosary?
Is there any way to make meditation more appealing, more beneficial? Is it possible to sit for twenty or thirty minutes in a happily energizing quiet way?
Sometime ago, I had the opportunity to see a video clip of Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche. This forty-two-year-old Buddhist master from Nepal says that from a young age he struggled with panic disorder. When he was nine, he asked his father, a Buddhist master, to teach him how to meditate. He hoped in this way to solve his panic attacks. Mingyur says that he found his father’s teaching very helpful. He also found that, though he “loved the idea of meditation, he did not like the practice of meditation.” Sounds familiar? He went on for some more time learning about meditation from different masters. Although he found the learning good, he still would not apply it to his life. At thirteen, he decided to participate in a three-year retreat. In the first year, his panic disorder grew worse. He finally asked himself, “Do you really want to apply the meditation technique or go on unhappily for the remaining two years of the retreat?” This is when he finally started living the teaching he had received by using his panic as support for his meditation. Mingyur got rid of his panic disorder and went on to become a meditation master.
Mingyur Rinpoche explains that meditation is about becoming familiar with our mind, or, in other words, befriending it. He compares the mind to a monkey that constantly needs to be on the move. According to him, our difficulty in meditating is the result of two wrong attitudes. The first is to let our mind be the boss and carry us wherever it goes. The second is to fight the ‘monkey’ aggressively, resulting in the monkey’s increasing loudness within. So, in Mingyur’s words, meditation is about finding a common ground with the ‘monkey mind’, that is, to choose the work that will occupy the ‘monkey’ and thus allow us to be masters of our mind. What work can we possibly give to the mind so that the ‘rest of us’ can grow calm, peaceful and connected with God? One of Mingyur’s suggestions for basic meditation is the breath awareness. But more on this next time.
I leave you with the very crucial question that this Buddhist monk asked himself: Do you really want to meditate?
If you are interested, there are lots of videos on meditation on Youtube. You can also learn from teachers who teach meditation.
I suggest you learn to notice what happens inside you when you meditate. Who does the talking? You will make interesting discoveries. More about this later


– Sr. Marie Gabrielle Riopel SCSM is the provincial of the Sisters of Charity of Saint Mary.

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Twelve Guidelines for Renewal

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All of us—especially superiors, bishops, chapter members, parish priests and lay leaders—can benefit from the wisdom of these twelve guidelines. 

We all face issues of change, improvement and renewal. Persons do. Organizations, too. When we address such issues, the twelve guidelines given by the Pope to the Roman Curia can serve as practical and wise sign posts.
After all, not only is the Holy Father the head of the Catholic church. He is respected as one of the most influential world leaders today. He is known for his integrity, wisdom and closeness to the real needs and problems of people.
On December 22, 2016, the Pope addressed the Roman Curia and gave twelve guidelines for reform.
To begin with, he insists that all reform and renewal must “con-form to the Good News which must be proclaimed joyously and courageously to all, especially to the poor, the least and the outcast” and that it “must be directed in bonum et in servitium (for doing good and for service).
So, too, he says, “Permanent formation is not enough; what we need also and above all is permanent conversion and purification. Without a change of mentality, efforts at practical improvement will be in vain.”
Here are the twelve guidelines—clear, practical, challenging. We have kept the Pope’s words as they are, abbreviating some paragraphs for reasons of space. Very relevant for communities, provincial chapters and retreats. The words in italics are not in the original.

1. Individual responsibility (personal conversion):  The true soul of the reform are the men and women who are part of it and make it possible.  Indeed, personal conversion supports and reinforces communal conversion. There is a powerful interplay between personal and communal attitudes.  A single person can bring great good to the entire body, but also bring great harm and lead to sickness.  A healthy body is one that can recover, accept, reinforce, care for and sanctify its members.

2. Pastoral concern (pastoral conversion): May no one feel overlooked or mistreated, but may everyone experience the care and concern of the Good Shepherd. The efforts of all must be inspired by pastoral concern and a spirituality of service and communion, for this is the antidote to all the venoms of vain ambition and illusory rivalry.  (There is a warning against becoming “a bureaucracy, pretentious and apathetic, merely legalistic and ritualistic, a training ground of concealed ambitions and veiled antagonisms.”)

3. Missionary spirit (Christocentrism): It is the chief aim of all forms of service in the Church—to bring the Good News to the ends of the earth.  For “there are Church structures which can hamper efforts at evangelization, yet even good structures are only helpful when there is a life constantly driving, sustaining and assessing them.  Without new life and an authentic evangelical spirit, without the Church’s fidelity to her own calling, any new structure will soon prove ineffective.”

4. Clear organization: These areas of competence must be respected, but they must also be distributed in a reasonable, efficient and productive way.

5. Improved functioning: This… demands an ongoing review of roles, the relevance of areas of competence, and the responsibilities of the personnel, and consequently of the process of reassignment, hiring, interruption of work and also promotions.

6.  Modernization (updating): This involves an ability to interpret and attend to “the signs of the times.”

7. Sobriety: Here what is called for is a simplification and streamlining.  (This is for greater efficiency and authentic witness.)

8. Subsidiarity: This involves the reordering of areas of competence, transferring them if necessary from one Dicastery (department) to another, in order to achieve autonomy, coordination and subsidiarity in areas of competence and effective interaction in service.

9.Synodality: (This principle involves collaboration among different departments and frequent meetings of the heads of various sections, so that they work together, not in isolation.)

10.Catholicity: Among the Officials, in addition to priests and consecrated persons, the catholicity of the Church must be reflected in the hiring of personnel from throughout the world, of permanent deacons and lay faithful carefully selected on the basis of their unexceptionable spiritual and moral life and their professional competence.  It is fitting to provide for the hiring of greater numbers of the lay faithful, especially where they can be more competent than clerics or consecrated persons.  Also of great importance is an enhanced role for women and lay people in the life of the Church and their integration into roles of leadership, with particular attention to multiculturalism.

11.  Professionalism: Every Dicastery must adopt a policy of continuing formation for its personnel, to avoid their falling into a rut or becoming stuck in a bureaucratic routine. Likewise essential is the definitive abolition of the practice of promoveatur ut amoveatur (giving a promotion to an unsuitable person, to get rid of him/her.)

12.Gradualism (discernment): Gradualism has to do with the necessary discernment entailed by historical processes, the passage of time and stages of development, assessment, correction, experimentation, and approvals ad experimentum.  In these cases, it is not a matter of indecision, but of the flexibility needed to be able to achieve a true reform.

In India, don’t we have to do much more in several of these areas, e.g., Point 10, where the Pope gives clear directions on how personnel should be chosen? Are we doing enough in appointing competent lay persons in church institutions? Are women given the importance they deserve? Are our settings truly multicultural?


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Be Open to Correction

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One day, the rector of a house of formation shared this bit of self-awareness. “Some of our students of philosophy told me,” he said, “‘Father, you seem to notice us only when we make a mistake.’ I thought about this, and found that they are right. Often they work hard to prepare a feast, and I don’t say a word of appreciation.  I don’t notice and appreciate the things they do well.”

This priest’s genuineness, including his readiness to admit his mistakes, wins him the trust of those in his care.

A seminarian expressed his tremendous admiration for his theology professor, Father Jason: “He does not bluff us. If he does not know the answer to a question, he will admit it honestly, or tell us that he will check the answer and tell us in the next class. This is why we trust him.”

This readiness to admit one’s limitations and mistakes is part of being mature. A number of honest secular persons think this is sadly missing in many “religious” persons.

Here is a passage from the autobiography of one of the most brilliant thinkers of the twentieth century—Bertrand Russell. Writing in his nineties, he recalls his undergraduate days at Cambridge University. Russell says that the one thing of lasting value he learnt at Cambridge was intellectual honesty. “I do not remember,” he says, “Any professor taking it ill that a mistake was pointed out to him.” Recalling an experiment on thermo-statics, he tells us how a student raised this question: “Sir, aren’t you overlooking the centrifugal forces on the lid?” The professor stopped the experiment and told the young student: “I have been doing it this way for years, but you are right.”

Older people who have authority over the young—parents, teachers, formators, priests, superiors—claim to have the right to correct those in our care. Fair enough! But we should not forget that we too are imperfect, fallible human beings who need correction. We are not God!  We have no right to expect the young to be open to correction if we do not exhibit that openness ourselves. One of the best ways we help them to be open to correction is (as in other matters) to set an example.

While teaching Master’s Degree students in Chicago, I found that each student was given a form to assess my teaching. Their evaluation of my classes would be collected by the director, who would summarize it, and give me a copy. Teachers do need such feedback. And students have a write to have their views heard.

What about parents?

Here is a precious lesson from a family I know. One evening, after the family prayers, Donald, the youngest son, told his father, “Father, you taught me the Our Father. We recited it this evening, too. In it we are asking God to forgive us as we forgive others. But I have heard that you and your elder brother are not on talking terms for seventeen years!”

The parents were shocked to hear their child’s honest comment. They sat up the whole night talking this over. Early morning, they told Donald, “Come with us. We are going to visit your uncle.” They went.

The uncle could not believe his eyes—his estranged younger brother coming to visit him after years. Donald’s father told his son to tell the uncle why they had come. Then, a heart-warming scene followed: the two brothers, who had not talked to each other for seventeen years, hugged each other and wept.

Donald’s father had taken his son’s words as a correction coming from God. The Lord can correct us through anyone—through our children, our students, our friends, or even strangers. Often others see us more correctly than we do.

Want to get such feedback?

A simple way of getting honest feedback is to tell the group you are working with, very sincerely: “Just as I point out your good points and defects, I will be grateful if you tell me what you find helpful and not helpful in the way I deal with you. If you like, we can have an anonymous written evaluation of our different sectors of life. Know that I will not be offended if you point out things you find unhelpful. You will not be punished for doing this. This way, we can build a more open and loving home, and help each other to grow up.”

Your saying it once will not convince the young that you really mean it. Reason: They may not be used to such open superiors, or they may have had the experience of making suggestions to a more senior person and getting a scolding for doing it.

In a particular college, the sister principal asked for frank feedback on a number of things. Trusting her, one of the professors (a laywoman) wrote a detailed signed feedback, indicating several positive and a few negative things. Others chose to flatter the principal and speak ill of her behind her back. Later, the one who wrote the feedback found that the principal became unfriendly. The flatterers felt they were smarter!

If you want to hear only good things about yourself, do not ask for feedback! If you ask for suggestions or criticism, you must be open to it, and determined to correct what you need to correct, like the rector in my first story.

Here is a lesson I learnt from a friar who was an experienced spiritual director. I was a young professor then and reluctant to accept students for spiritual direction, since I felt very raw and inexperienced. His advice was: “Do not refuse those who come to you for help.” The best part was the reason he gave me. He did not say that I would help them much. What he did tell me was: “God will help you through them.”

God will teach us many things through the young people in our care, if we are ready to learn. If we are open to such learning, they, in their turn, will trust us, and be willing to learn from us.

Dad, you taught me the Our Father. We recited it this evening, too. In it we are asking God to forgive us as we forgive others. But i have heard that you and elder brother are not on talking terms for seventeen years


– Fr. Joe Mannath SDB

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