Mystic Eye – and how to live a richer life

If we need to live a richer life, we need to first understand what’s non-negotiable and then live our life in full acceptance of the non-negotiable items. This indeed seems to be the underlying source of strength for all great men and women.

I had the chance to attend a wonderful program named “mystic eye” conducted by Sadhguru last Sunday – thanks to the advice of a friend who had attended an earlier program. For just over four hours, Sadhguru held the entire audience enthralled with his amazing wisdom on how to live a life of possibility.

He brought home the fact that we had one common non-negotiable – all of us are going to die someday. At first this fact seems morbid, but when we look closer – when we accept the fact that we have a limited life and the clock is ticking – it makes us alert and sensitive to the world around us.  You appreciate life better. Think about it – a tourist  soaks in the sights and culture better than the permanent resident (who often tends to take things for granted).

Its also worth reflecting on the fact that while death is a certainty, we don’t know when it will happen. It can happen a hundred years from now or very, very soon. And there’s no way you can really predict this at all.

The above two facts – of humans living limited life spans, and we don’t really know the expiry date – it makes sense for us to live each day as if its our last day – and focussing every day not just on what we need to “survive” but also on the immense possibilities that exist within each of us. Whether its a piece of art we want to create, or an exploration of our spiritual side –  bringing that into an everyday context imbues energy and meaning into our lives.

So that’s all we need to really do – live a super life – but a day at a time. We wake up in the morning meditating on the fact that we have been given a day to live. We also express gratitude for the various things given to us – relationships, nature – there’s so much really. Every hour through the day, we acknowledge the fact we are still alive – and smile – indeed, what could be a better reason for a smile than this? And at the end of the day, we release all our plans, burdens and attachments out of our system and prepare to die into the night. We can then pick up our baggage next day – albeit appreciating the fact that all our attachments and plans are baggage (perhaps previous baggage!). And this sets our life into one overflowing with appreciation, equilibrium and meaning.

Thinking about it, it seems impossible to even attempt. But when you give it a go (doing and not thinking) – it does work.  So tonight close your eyes and let everything dissolve  into the night and may tomorrow bring in a day of cheer and equilibrium……

The mindfulness experiments – 1

A few months ago, I decided it was time to incorporate some mindfulness into my day. Now this is a much used (and some say abused!) term today – and a novice like me can add to the woes easily. So let me at the outset define what it means for me – and then go on to share what’s been happening since I gave it a test run.

To me mindfulness equals being “aware”, of “noticing”consciously. Note that I am not trying to “improve” anything – the effort on my side is only to notice. The very act of noticing consistently can perhaps provide insights for change – if and when required – to begin with, its only about taking stock of my state.

So in short, if I could witness myself being angry, being happy, being sad, walking, talking – whatever be my state of being or activity- I could call the experiment  a success. Quite a modest goal you say huh – perhaps it is, it just wasn’t as easy as I thought it to be though – let me explain.

On a given day – we meet many people, we do many things. And through the day, we experience emotions. Plenty of them – with everyone’s talking/feeling/trying change  – and disruptive change at that. And without your even noticing it, all this seeming volatility can get to you – it can affect your mood, it can drain you out, and even leave you unwell. And it was this sense of feeling mentally fatigued, a touch angry and too often (a little unusual for me!) that got me curious about what was happening – and I started maintaining a nightly journal.

Every night before turning in, I would rewind the day as best I could remember and jot down how I felt. Writing stuff down brings in clarity – and the first few days provided enough fodder for me to realise how many moments through the day I wasn’t proud of. There were moments of fleeting negative emotion – some expressed, some withheld – both of them leading to some composure ruffling. And then before you could settle down and let the emotion go, off you were on another jaunt -more emotions coming your way. A few times, you expressed something uncharacteristic – but before you could make amends or clarify further – the next meeting was on. And so I moved from one unresolved emotion and unfinished business to another – and it was all these unclosed events that led primarily to the energy drain.

I felt better immediately post the journaling (and indeed laughed at some of the events) – and where some course correction was warranted (say – apologise/ clarify/ maybe even just spend some more time with the person involved) put it down on my next day’s task list. Very quickly, the “unfinished business” list was coming down. And indeed, I felt awesome.

Miracles come in small packages to your aid when you are trying some positive stuff. Sukumar gifted me a little doll (designed after a Japanese ritual) that had two large eyes. You made a wish, coloured an eye and placed it somewhere you could look at it often.  And every time you caught the doll’s eye, it would remind you of what your wish was – and you would be “nudged” toward your desired effort. in my case, it was to be more mindful – and with the arrival of the doll, twice a day i reviewed my day – a significant improvement from the nightly journal.  And the benefits began to accumulate. The sense of being “overwhelmed or touchy” began to dissipate and more importantly I could now clearly notice what were aspects that touched a nerve. And once you noticed these, without realizing you made adjustments in your life to limit the exposure to the toxic situations, people, tasks – basically stuff that gave you no sense of accomplishment at all, but did have significant emotional overhead. This following wonderful Naval Ravikant  served to be the scale on which I reviewed my day primarily:

“What you choose to work on, and who you choose to work with, are far more important than how hard you work.”

Its important to notice that I wasn’t focussing on the interventions required for improvement here – just noticing how different events made me feel made the difference. Indeed I was not adding – but actually subtracting stuff resulting in gaining me more free time to focus on things I cared about!).

 

A quick summary of the above for all you super busy folks: – If you feel there’s too much going on in your work life (feeling overwhelmed/ touchy etc. etc) – try the following:

a. Start off by journaling in the nighttime (rewind the entire day – you’ll be surprised by how much you remember). If there’s any event you’d like to course correct (say call a colleague who you were a touch upset with for instance and talk it through), put that on your list

b. If the above works for you, try to have a few more “check ins” – just before lunch and before leaving for the day are perfect – to rewind and take stock. You can drop the nightly journal at this point.

The story doesn’t stop there though. Last month, I was gifted 2 more invaluable aids to further the practice. The 1st was a workshop on evolving change happily using “tiny habits” – by Sukumar and Kumaran of tinymagiq. It’s a course that will change you one little habit at a time – and happily at that!  It certainly warrants another follow on post. The second was a wonderful book by Thich That Hanh on the “4 establishments of Mindfulness”. This book breaks down mindfulness itself into 4 parts (and therefore allows you to remember the day a lot, lot better across these areas). as I work  on this ‘mindfulness” journey – I continue to be amazed at how rewarding it is – and at the same time, how much more there is to travel.

The good part though is that the journey is as (if not more) rewarding than the destination (per all the gurus in this space). If you are on a similar journey, would encourage you to adopt any of the above techniques too – and do let me know how they work!

‘True’ and ‘true for me’ – two different things…

A friend came back disillusioned after having tried a meditation technique for a few weeks.

“The organization had statistics to prove how beneficial the course was. I even had friends who took the course and now swear by it. Why does it just not work for me – I swear I followed the instructions to a T?” he exclaimed.

This is becoming a common complaint. We do some research, pick an activity or a situation which we are sure will help us get to where we want to go – only to find that the glove doesn’t fit so well. And when this happens, we throw out the baby – in this case – my friend was unlikely to give meditation (even a very different school) another go in the future. What is happening here?

I have come to believe the answer is the difference between something being “true” and something being “true for me”. For instance – when someone talks about the speed of light being constant everywhere, we believe it – we may not have personally experienced it in all its shades, but its been verified repeatedly by many, many intelligent folks. Or when your car mechanic (a competent one) tells you your clutch is worn out, you take his advice without question – and the car is better post the fix. Fixes for clutches and scientific truths remain the same irrespective of who is inquiring into it.

When you consider ayurveda or meditation however, you need something more personal – attuned to your body type and your mental makeup. your “super analytic friend” may need to read up some of the logic-based scriptures and related techniques (say ramana maharishi’s advice of tracing “who am i?” to its source). A friend who has just experienced a major personal setback would need a totally different method – something to calm the mind like a mantra recitation or witnessing the breath perhaps. And there are further layers too within each type. For the upanishads are many and yet their goal is one – to help each of us discover our truths for ourselves. And our experience with the methods and approaches will let us know if its working.

So in short, these streams place the human being at the centre and encourage her to try out a particular path and keep tailoring it based on her experience. There is no “right or wrong” – there is only “right or wrong” for a person and/or for a circumstance. The field of validating facts has moved from an impersonal laboratory to yourself – your own body, your own mind, your own spiritual needs. 

I think this is a very liberating concept. And very interesting too. When a meditation technique doesn’t seem to work for you – you don’t have to blame yourself for not succeeding, nor do you need to judge the technique. You just need to understand its not the right one for you – at this time, it could be later on – and move on. Its also interesting – because to make the best choices, you need to understand yourself best – how else can you choose what’s most appropriate for you? This is what I told my friend – informing him of my own experiences – some which helped, some not so much. He seemed to agree – and has found another approach that seems to connect better.

What do you feel about this?

Read, Reflect, Rest – The 3 magical Rs!

It’s been a long while since my last post here. Why is that? I don’t know. I guess there are seasons when you are prolific, and then seasons when you are prolific – but at something else. You read, you reflect and you rest during those periods and the 3rs help you gain much-needed perspective to help you thrive in the busier seasons!

Reading opens out new worlds, introduces some cool friends and adventures, equips one to see the world in a new way. Is this what the ancients meant by the word “darshan”? For the “objective” world may not change, your world can though – when you begin to see the world in a different way.

The seeds of knowledge gained from reading sprout into wisdom when we reflect. Indeed ideas become habits, theories turn into practices only when we reflect a lot. The ancients prescribed meditation and contemplation in tandem – distilling our perceptions and learnings into deep-rooted insights.

The rest – is more of a repose. All of this mental activity needs a stable base to take effect. Rest need not mean just sleep – though sleep also helps as the mind subconsciously works out its magic. A restful walk, yoga, a spot of fishing, cooking – anything that puts the mind to rest is what I mean.

So that’s the thought for today. Prolific writing followed by periods of 3Rs as the seasons follow one another. Neither rushed, neither forced. Just allowing the inner wisdom to work on the inspirations from the world – sometimes internally and sometimes as a material product (an essay, a sculpture, a poem, a theorem, a business plan even maybe). It happens.

Would you agree?

A #BookReview of Originals by Adam Grant

Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the WorldOriginals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam M. Grant
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is a book you will treasure – its like a wise(and witty) companion who walks by your side and points things out. And you begin to see the world in a new light – new understanding, new possibilities arise. Its a “multiple read” book – a book you should read for a bit and then reflect on for a while and then go back and read some more – not one that should be read from start to finish and put away. What i loved about the book in particular was that it courages you to look at data and make decisions – but without losing your human touch – in my view, a most required trait for today.

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Why we need the comfort food of religion and tribes more than ever today

The older one grows – not just by age but by experiences – the more one understands that not everything needs changing. Things are there for a reason, and mostly the reason is intended to assure your well-being.

Take religion for instance. Its fashionable for young people today to embrace atheism or spiritualism. Both are heady endeavours – one is the quest for rational thought as the individual strives to make a personal sense of his world, the other is a quest for experimental fulfilment as the seeker tries to experience reality as it is. Both are laudable pursuits and fulfilling – but terribly lonely. Success is hard to come by, and you are on a quest to reach the mountain with very little support from those around you. And others on the quest can be seen as competition adding to the pressure – and its easy to brand oneself a loser when someone (and there will always be someone!) seems to be progressing better.

Religion on the other hand is more forgiving. The tribe takes centre stage. There’s a God somewhere in the background who is nursing you and your tribe – and she will make sure everything is fine. Rituals buffet you against seismic events like funerals and give you reasons to celebrate wildly at weddings and other functions. Emotions are drawn out in so many ways indeed. Sacred places like temples encourage congregation, where people can converse with each other or vent their feelings to thier all-knowing god without holding back – for after all, we are but humans, we don’t have to hold ourselves to too-lofty-a-standard. The God knows everyone’s troubles already, doesn’t he? The set of shared values encoded into rules and rituals also keep you in touch with the seasons of the world and your growth.

And yes, most religions allow you to outgrow them when you are ready. Saints, Sufis, Monks, Nuns are all folks ready and strong to venture on their own into the unknown – leaving the cosy world of religion and the material behind. They are not escaping religion but rather expanding the frontiers of their religions so the tribe can use them as signposts should they want to.

The mind and the spirit are great quests on their own. The heart however demands company – and its the heart that religion embraces. And I do believe we need religions and the language of shared experiences and heart for the health of our tribes – even more today in an increasingly volatile world. Would you agree?

An ode to the dawn

The morning stillness comforts. Thoughts whittle away. The day’s cares are still a few hours out. For the most part, the phones are silent. The roads are enjoying some peace too.

Indeed the absence of all this noise allows us to perceive the morning’s essence better. The sun is beginning its majestic ascendency into the skies and the first brush of light bestows its grace on all of nature. The flowers raise their lovely faces to the sunlight and the beach sand opens its vaults revealing unlimited treasures. Here lies a simple sea shell, there ambles the magnificent tortoise, the thrifty crab hurries thither and the birds flutter away to glory. Sans the corn-on-the-cob sellers and the crowds, Nature’s bounty is being enjoyed by the natives. The enterprising fishermen are off in their boats with a song on their lips and a hope in their breast.

All of this is why heralding the dawn is so special. It gives one a panoramic view of what it means to be a human, to count our blessings and beautifully exist with no cares for a while. There’s a promise in the air and the comfort of nature’s embrace all around – now really, could one wish for more? Ah, perhaps a strong cup of filter coffee would make it even more perfect!

ZATM by Robert Pirsig – a review

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into ValuesZen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values by Robert M. Pirsig

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are some books that will have you applauding the author for piece of magical work – and also widen your thinking horizons significantly. This is one such book. The deeply philosophical content is layered seamlessly into the story – a long motorcycle ride the author undertakes with his son and a few friends. Lots of “aha” moments in between – why do we love new songs only to have the craving die off after a while, when we say something has quality – what do we really mean, what does caring mean – a lot of things. Its a riveting read and I’d recommend many reads (with some time for reflecting on the concepts before continuing). You will certainly begin to see the world afresh.

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I am Pilgrim – Book review

I Am Pilgrim (Pilgrim, #1)I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Its a tome – 750 pages or so. It’s the author’s debut novel. That said, its a very, very good read. The scope is large too – terrorism, a murder mystery, espionage, action in multiple countries – there’s a lot packed in – and is plotted brilliantly by Terry Hayes. Would recommend it highly for your next flight or weekend reading – its sure to make the trip seem short!

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How to stay happy all the time (or at least be less anxious)!

It’s that time of the year, when everyone is actively looking for a “Kabali” ticket. Filing your taxes and watching Kabali – are the only two worthwhile goals for the month! The tribes on Whatsapp are profusely sharing  reviews/ opinions/ experiences on the movie – read them all and you realise an important fact – most of them are comparisons:

  1. Kabali rocks, way too good when compared to his earlier movie Lingaa
  2. The movie’s good, but not quite in the Baasha class….
  3. Thalaivar’s movie appeals globally. Almost like Muthu gathered popularity in japan, this one is likely too everywhere…….

You get the idea – everywhere the movie is judged, appreciated and rejoiced – and the degree of appreciation depends not on the intrinsic quality of the movie itself but on its relative compare with an ideal in the speaker’s mind.

Which brings me round to today’s topic – on how to be happy (or at least less anxious), irrespective of the situations we find ourselves in. As always, the ancients had this nailed down perfectly. When something bad/ undesirable happened, in their trademark, pithy way they had this to say (translated form Tamil – and not very well at that!)

“Bad luck that was to have taken your head, just took away your head-dress! Be thankful, persevere!”

In short, their remedy was for you to imagine the greater misfortunes that could have occurred but didn’t – a remedy that instantly calmed your mind. While seeming simple, it’s a remarkable cure. Let me elaborate with an example:

You slam your car against an obstacle and get your car dented (I recently did by the way!) and immediately start fretting over what you could have done better. You playback videos of alternate scenarios (With dent-less cars as the outcome of course!) in you mind – you could have driven slower, taken a better road, looked at the weather and chosen a more clement time to venture out etc. etc. Then the senior-most member in your family consoles you with the above proverb in her typically compassionate way. And you realize that the accident is actually much less severe that you imagine it to be. Consider the worse alternatives to a car dented but no other casualties;

–          The pain, grief and worry if you had hit an animal (or god forbid) a villager instead of the inanimate object

–          What if a drunken driver had hit your car at speed (and god knows in the early hours, there are many around!)

–          What if a tire had burst instead on the highway and you had lost control

The scenarios are endless – and from a pure probability standpoint are just as likely as that freak accident. As this realization dawns on you, you are grateful – thankful that a more disastrous outcome didn’t result and as a bonus you also become lot more mindful (perhaps decreasing the odds of future accidents as well!).

You can also apply it to situations where you are playing “victim” in over-drive mode. For instance, let’s say you have to go and inform a team member that their much awaited promotion is not happening.  You castigate the world and your system for being unfair (they could have accommodated an extra slot for him, the system seems pre-disposed toward another group etc. etc.). In short, the perfect moment to try out our miraculous medicine – the proverb from above. Apply it – and you ask yourself –  isn’t this task (distasteful as it is) so much better than for instance:

  1. The doctor who has to let his non-smoking patient know he has tested positively for cancer of the lungs?
  2. The policeman who has to inform his colleague’s wife of her husband’s death in a random, drive by shooting – being plagued by guilt himself for staying alive and not being able to have helped out.

And so it goes. There’s always a worse thing that could have happened -and therefore always a reason to stay grateful to providence. Further as Rumi quotes:

Where there is ruin, there is hope for treasure.

Its hard to internalise this though because we tend to compare our performances and abilities with those who appear to be lesser qualified than us and our misfortunes with those who are apparently luckier. Just shifting the comparisons will make life a lot less burdensome.

I try the approach out for a day – it seems to work everywhere. A slow driver who makes you wait for a signal more – check. A random motorcyclist who nicks your car – check. You don’t get tickets for Kabali on the first weekend – check.

You also tend to appreciate all the good things that have happened in your life a lot better. And that truly is the icing on the cake.

A hot cup of coffee on a cold evening – enjoy the heavenly experience (imagine Siberian prison life if you can for a really powerful view of what could have happened had you been born in another time, another place – this is what one of the world’s best ever writers (Dostovesky) went through!). Should you receive an award – cherish it unconditionally (imagine what Marie Curie went through!). if you have a friend to call and crib on demand – you are indeed blessed – most people don’t have this luxury.

Indeed when you practice this for a while, the sense of “entitlement” that pervades our lives gets transmuted into a sense of “humility and awe”. And in itself, that sense of benediction is a miracle of the highest order. Wouldn’t you agree?