East Meets West :)

Richard Feynman, the famous American physicist says in his remarkable book-"I don't know what's the matter with people: they don't learn by understanding, they learn by some other way—by rote or something. Their knowledge is so fragile!In current times, we absorb so much information from news, television, internet & books but do we really learn and more importantly apply that learning in real world?  Today's experience taught me that learning is indeed the outcome of in-depth understanding of a subject via experimentation, serious study & idea generation.

Speaking of idea generation, sometimes ideas emanate from entirely random stimuli. Few days ago, an animated discussion about "Hindu Scriptures" with a dear friend resulted in one such idea! I learned about two interesting mechanisms by which knowledge in ancient Indian scriptures was passed on from one generation to the next. These two classifications were "Shruti" or 'The heard' & "Smriti" or 'The recorded' respectively. Anyways, as my friend contemplated about dimishing cultural values in modern society   during this insightful conversation, my monkey mind had this epiphany-"Why not experiment with these ancient learning styles in current times?"

As I hung up the phone, I tried to recollect my best learning moments in the past six months. The results-95% @ "Danforth Museum" + "Ashland Temple" and  rest @ "Library" + "Books". Seems that this accelerated learning at museum was the result of enhanced observation & understanding of things in my immediate environment.  I said to myself "Let's bring Danforth & Ashland together & see what happens! After all people are both places are willing to learn, sincere volunteers and passionate about ART & aesthetics! It sure will be lot of fun!"

I voiced my idea to Julia, our museum's education coordinator, and as anticipated she agreed to coordinate the visit and gave a GREEN signal right away! This was the easy part. What was not so easy was the prepartions - study of temple's history, Indian worship rituals, temple architectural styles, connotation of sacred names, significance of weapons & vehicles of Indian deities - it almost felt like preparing for an exam but I did end up learning lots about Hindu religion, temple worship, significance of dieties etc in a very short time :)

Come April 24th (Yet another Sunny Saturday!), all Danforth docents assembled at Ashland temple in their trademark style - winsome smiles, sharp looks, open minds and dilated pupils! The tour began with discussion on history of Ashland Temple. Most of the docents were quite amazed to see sculpture carvings on temple's monumental Gopuram and I talked about about significance of carvings and their connotations w.r.t to Sri Lakshmi Temple. Next we discussed salient characteristics of dieties Ganesha, Lakshmi & Venkateshwara. The visitors were handed a hand out highlighting Ganesha Symbolism and it appeared that everyone found it quite informative & cool! As we walked inside the temple, all of us were thrilled to see so many cheerful people, highly disciplined temple priests and euphoric children racing on the temple's marble floor. The tour guide walked the group from one diety to the next giving related descriptions.

Snaps-Ashland Temple Visit

In the next hour-we learned about:

> Temple Regions: Mahamandapam, Garbha Graha & Hawan Place.
> Offering to Dieties - Flowers, Fruits, Food, Ornaments & Mudra.
> Significance of Directions - and science of Vaastu Shastra.
> Panchtatva Elements - Earth, Fire, Wind, Water & Space.
> Take Aways for visitors - Panchamitra (composed of Milk, Yoghurt, Sugar, Honey, Ghee), Prasadam, sacred water &Tilaka.
> Worship Rituals - Archana, Abhishekam & Aarthi.
> Vehicles of dieties - Mouse (Ganesha), Garuda (Vishnu) & Nandi (Shiva)

Throughout the tour, all docents stayed attentive, curious and seemed to admire temple's architecture, efforts of temple volunteers, worship rituals, devotion of visitors a lotl! As the tour ended, we stepped outside the temple and headed towards Dosa Temple (a pure Veg restaurant nearby) and relished plenty of Indian delicacies!

While I returned home with a boat load of fond memories today, the one that'll stay cached in my mind in the days to come is the overwhelming affection showered by members of Danforth community! EAST met WEST this Saturday and together they spent a remarkable afternoon indeed :D
The way to know life is to love many things.~Vincent Van Gogh
[Image Courtesy Verna]
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READ - Shall we?

When I walked into Framingham Library this morning, I was quite amazed to see it teeming with so many kids and their parents. Before I could deduce that gorgeous sunny day had something to do with it, my eyes were drawn towards this signage that read - "Celebrate National Library Week * April 11-17" and it all made sense right away!

As I navigated to my fav spot, I saw this kid voicing strong opinions to his father. It was quite evident that his father wanted him to pickup few good books whereas to the kid-READING seemed yet another TO-DO task with no apparent fun or relevance whatsoever! I was tempted to intervene & share my thoughts but I decided to stay quiet and jot down a quick blog post later. Here's why I think READING is so important:
  • Gear Shift: When you read something, you are essentially absorbing writer's thoughts. Once you get into a habit of reading, every time you pickup a book-you disassociate yourself from your thoughts and focus on those of the writer's. This gives you a fresh perspective. 
  • Relaxation: For people who stay at higher energy levels for a considerable amount of time (any examples?;)), reading helps them to take a pause, slow down, allow their otherwise hyperactive brains to relax.
  • Pattern Matching: Voracious readers consume so many works of fiction, bestsellers and articles. So at any point in time-they are better equipped at detecting patterns (situations, issues, complex problems etc.) and thus act blazing fast. Good Reading develops one's analytical & critcial thinking skills and pattern matching ability on a continual basis.
  • Vocabulary: When we give tours to ESL students at Danforth, we see that they have to apply lot of effort to absorb new words into their spoken vocab. One suggestion which we usually offer to them is "READ READ READ!". Reading pushes you out of your comfort zone, you are bombarded with new words again and again until you internalize them. The key however is to take a conscious note of new words.
  • Creative Thinking: Similar to anything else we consume (advertisements, movies, TV Shows etc), the books give you a new perspective about the things and lets you explore the world in fantastic ways. Writings by great thinkers are always interesting reads - you get to understand their "thought process", their "visions" and their "idea generation process".
I'd sum up by mentioning that pursuing Art, Music, Dance, Theatre or anything else one's passionate about is cool provided it is coupled with a daily dose of Fantastic Fiction, Instructive Nonfiction, Inspirational Biographies or Light Comic Books. To know more about benefits of reading, check out this thought provoking paper or take a look at the doodle I sketched in Danforth's 'Goodnight Moon' reading area where creativity just seems to flow naturally :-) Let's resolve to READ more in the days to come!
There is no substitute for books in the life of a child~Mary Ellen Chase
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Shine On...

As I visited Ashland Temple today, even though I saw what one would normally expect in any Indian temple-devotees lining up to offer their prayers, temple priests doing routine rituals and children racing on the temple's marble floor and so on yet something appeared quite different!

The environment seemed to exude extremely positive vibes. Upon closer observation I noticed a small group of temple volunteers perched on wooden chowkis and engaged in active conversation as they worked together to prepare flower bouquets! Each one of them seemed to truly enjoy the activity and I couldn't stop myself from staying at a distance:) I expressed my curiosity about flowers & floral arrangements in particular to the volunteers. An elderly gentleman (a retireed Accountant), smiled and in turn asked me why I find flowers so intriguing? When I shared my vivid memories with him, Mamaji (other temple volunteers addressed him as Mamaji) appeared very happy. Next he voiced that following characteristics make flowers special:
  • Unconditional: Unlike nature's other creations, flowers spread fragnance unconditionally & all the time.
  • Simplicity: Human beings in general shy away from using basic primary colors in their lives (clothes, homes & environment) & create artifical colors by complex manufacturng processes that suit their tastes. Whereas most of the flowers are composed of basic primary colors & their simplicity makes them so elegant.
  • Spontaneous: A flower won't postpone blooming 'coz a certain day is too hot, too cold or too rainy. They do what they are meant to do!
  • United We Stand: Like two distinct people, no two flowers are alike, yet all flowers come together to form a beautiful arrangement, which is not achievable by any individual flower alone!
  • Energy: Flowers capture nature's beauty & present it in a form that amplifies positive energy and gives viewers warmth and comfort. Try sketching a colorful flower sometime, pay close attention to the drawing process and you'll understand this yourself.
Upon returning home, I attempted sketching my vision of a perfect flower and more than the doodle(above), it was quite cool to take a conscious note of thoughts that crossed my mind during the drawing process :)  Here's some additional info in case you wish to learn more about floral arrangements-linklink or link. Till sooner...Shine On ! :D

It is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors.~Oscar Wilde

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Oneness Simplified...!

Whenever I share my museum ventures with my acquaintances in India & New England, few common questions they pose are:

  • Why do some people spend so much of time in Volunteering?
  • Does one person's contribution matter really?
  • How are differences of opinion resolved in a non-profit setup?
  • What are the incentives for people to put in their energies & time week after week?
And my usual response to these Qns goes like "People are always the same everywhere. They do things that make sense to them w.r.t. their values, goals & motivations. True incentives for volunteers is usually HAPPINESS & I havn't yet come across a sincere volunteer who's NOT happy, happier or happiest as the case may be :). And yes amazing things can certainly be achieved with collective efforts".

Two interesting events happened earlier this week, that reinforced my belief of ONENESS. One - I moved in to this remarkably aesthetic (Thanks MJ & Henry!) house - the kind that gives you extremely +Ve vibes and two - I shadowed a memorable ESL tour at Danforth.

[Lynn with ESL students in Outspoken Exhibit]
Speaking of ESL-the acronym stands for English as a Second Language and comprises of people who are not native English speakers but try very hard to develop English language  proficiency. Now generally speaking learning English might would seem just like another task but when I participated in the ESL tour - I realized that it's not that easy after all. Due to limited exposure to English language, these students constantly look for avenues to stay in learning environment (evening schools, libraries, weekend classes etc) to build vocabularies, get a command on spoken English and practice lots.

In the tour I shadowed on Mar 31st, there were two ESL classes both comprising of cheerful students sincerely willing to invest their time to learn new words, interpret artworks and enjoy our tours. As Lynn began the tour in Masako Kamiya's gallery by probing students with "What's going on here?" & "Which masterpirce you like the most?"-the audience was engaged right away. Next she explained them what abstract art is in very simple & easy-to-understand English. As I stood their taking my notes-I could see students smiling, nodding heads & trying to absotb new words & art concepts.

After about 15 minutes, Lynn directed us all towards the Bridges Across Cultures gallery on 2nd floor and what was fun to observe was the emotional response of the students as they got off the elevator and walked in the gallery. Their instant reactions were-"Holaaaa-Waaaoow!", "Ahaaa", "Look at people", "Look at temple!", "Heyyy we have this in our country!" - in short everyone's face was lit up in this gallery.

15 minutes later, we walked into Danforth's permanent collection where the scale & realistic depiction of an important life event in the masterpiece titled "A Village Funeral in Brittany, 1891" by Charles Sprague Pearce held us all spellbound for several minutes. In the last 15 minutes of the tour, Lynn took us to Meta Fuller's gallery where we learned about sculpting process, Meta Fuller's life and the fact that Fuller Middle School in Framingham was named after this talented sculptress & her equally accomplished husband!

[ESL students with their pencils, drawing pads & passion!]
As the tour ended, Alex, teacher of one of the ESL group gave this drawing exercise to her group. The idea was to draw anything based on the tour they just participated in. Like myself, initially most of the students were surprised & hesitated in participating but with a little encouragement and plenty of pencils & drawing pad around (thanks to our volunteers!), everyone jumped right in to give their best shot at drawing. You can ascertain for yourself how engrossed students were. To me this was ONENESS in action-people from different ethnicities & socio-economic backgrounds under one umbrella working on a common interest(Art!)-it was just so nice to be present there observing how ART can make people do interesting things!

As we bid warm good-byes to ESL students & their teachers, we handed them FREE museum passes so that they can visit Danforth again with their families and join us in interpreting & enjoying ART! On behalf of our docent team (Lynn, Marty, Roseleen, Kathleen, Ellen, myself & our tours' orchestrator-Julia), I can declare that it was certainly an evening well spent :D Oh and in case ONENESS interests you as well, here are some non-art avenues who advocate & practice this principle of human connectedness- ONE.ORG, Oneness Univ, Global Oneness Project etc. 

I don't say everything, but I paint everything.~Pablo Picasso
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