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!

An old song and a platinum story….

There are some songs that just move you with their stories – and I came across one such much-loved song this weekend on youtube. The song “Taxi” by Harry Chapin has lost none of its capacity to move me even today. The song has a simple premise – a taxi driver (Harry) picks up his last fare of the day only to have him and his passenger (Sue) recollect a time long, long ago when they had shared an intimate relationship – and they had drifted apart to find their own calling – she to become an actress and he to learn to fly.

As the song progresses, he recognises that both have been successful – albeit in ways unimagined – she is “acting” happy while he “flies” whenever he is stoned – and his life is but a sad medley of tips and being stoned. The song moves over to its tragic end when she offers him a 20 USD bill for a 2 USD fare and he accepts – acknowledging “that another man may have been angry, another man may have refused – but then another man may never have let her go”. The song fades out….and if you haven’t heard the song, believe me its like watching a classic movie.

I discovered to my surprise that he song had a sequel – where harry (now a rich man) takes a taxi ride to meet sue ten years later only to discover she has moved to humbler surroundings – but is happier for it. Listen to the rest of the song as he recognizes the wheel of fortune and moves you with another heart-rendering song – believe me, this song is just as good as the earlier one.

Thanks for the wonderful story harry. I am of course reminded of other stories that have moved me just as much – Jim Reeves’s “The Blizzard” which is nail biting story of a man braving a blizzard to get home – will he make it in time?

Or who can forget Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” where a proud actress suddenly finds the going tough as she ages – sample just the first verse below:

Once upon a time you dressed so fine
You threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn’t you?
People’d call, say, “Beware doll, you’re bound to fall”
You thought they were all kiddin’ you
You used to laugh about
Everybody that was hangin’ out
Now you don’t talk so loud
Now you don’t seem so proud
About having to be scrounging for your next meal.

How does it feel
How does it feel
To be without a home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone?

Guess the bard was right when he said the sweetest songs often tell the saddest tales – and on that note, will bring this post to an end.

Are there songs and stories from your experience you’d like to share?

Communication – are we single tracked?

In a recent get-together, a colleague confessed that things were not as well with the group as they should have been. The reason – everyone spoke a common dialect, excepting him – and they preferred to communicate in their native tongue rather than english. And no matter how much he tried, the language barrier was proving insurmountable.

Now, here’s the interesting thing – this guy was one of the most affable chaps you could ever hope to meet. And one of the most travelled – so adapting to new cultures and languages came easily to him. The team was a very enterprising unit as well, so how did they not realise he was feeling out of place, and why was he finding it so difficult to communicate to them they needed to speak in English – at least when he was around?

The problem got me thinking on something more fundamental. Knowingly or unknowingly – the spoken word (or written language) has become the defacto means of communication. They communicate ideas, they communicate emotion, they communicate everything these days. So much so, that we have become a little insensitive to other means over time!

If you dont believe me, lets take stock – when was the last time you sat with your friend comfortably in silence (true communion huh!). Where the silence spoke a language that you understood? On a more profound note – think about ramana maharishi or eckhart tolle’s silences which transform you with no need for words.

Or remember the last time you enjoyed music that didn’t need lyrics to move you. Listening to the music translated the emotions directly (the violin duo of ganesh-kumaresh are doing an awesome job with their new album in this regard).

Remember when you practiced munna bhai’s hug theraphy on someone (a child, a friend, a spouse, a relative..) and they felt better immediately. Remember a tough day, when someone laid a hand on yours in understanding – and you felt more reassured?

Dont get me wrong – we still need the words to survive today. However words are easier to manipulate. The body and the soul are better (and faster) at detecting sincerity than the mind is. They are also more adept at communicating emotion and experiences than the spoken word can ever be. Its harder to fake sincerity – try faking a comfortable silence or composing music you cant identify with and you’ll know what I mean!

The word of course helps detail out ideas and implementation – its the blood that keeps our society alive, we couldn’t do without it. Also, some of our best authors and speakers do an awesome job of translating great ideas, emotions and experiences through the spoken word as well. Just try to read through a PG Wodehouse without laughing – am sure you’ll agree with me.

Endpoint – words (written and spoken) are required – its what allows us to live our lives today for the most part. But would it be a good idea to become a little sensitive to the other means (touch, pure sound, maybe vision, sense of feel etc.) and incorporate them into out lives – it may add more spirit to our lives?