An emptiness that’s fulfilling – my experience with the isha shoonya program

Over the last four days, I had the opportunity to attend the shoonya intensive programme at the isha ashram in coimbatore.

Intensive is the right word – indeed it’s the first thing that strikes you about the program. Right from the consecrated hall which sends out intense vibes, the format of the program which makes sure that every minute is accounted for effectively, and the very wise teachers (who are also full time volunteers) and the program volunteers who take service to a whole different level altogether, and of course the curated videos of Sadhguru which ensure that concepts become internalised truths in you – intensity is a word that perfectly describes the programme.

The interesting thing though is this – all this intense focus does not translate into long faces and on-edge behaviour. Indeed there’s a sense of relaxation and gentle humour pervading the entire program.

At every moment there’s the sense that a good-natured-laugh and a profound learning is just a minute away.

The teaching is deep – and like all of the best things in life, the practices grow on you over time. I know this from past experience. On my very first isha program, I was surprised when the teacher advised us not to take notes.

“This is not a learning of the mind, but an experience to go through. Just stay with us and you will pick it all up” he said

I have come to appreciate that there is a different way to learn – that of experiential learning. You learn through hearing, seeing, visualisation, doing and repetition. And stuff learned this way stays with you – its a transmission of experience not just a transfer of concepts.

So what I did I learn? I came back with two practices – about an hour’s worth of daily practice – which promise deep restfulness and explosive energy respectively. If these seem contradictory, its another fact I have come to appreciate about spirituality at large – its hard to decode spiritual practices with just the mind. The best approach is to try it for a while and see if it does something to you. When it comes from a true source, it will often flower into something that you cannot explain or predict – its beyond words. The little while is a mandala to start with – about 40 days of uninterrupted practice for the practice to take root in your life. Its something I will be able to do hopefully – and will look to post on any experiences.

But there’s another learning that’s stayed with me.In one of the videos played, Sadhguru mentions that every day he is greeted by tears of joy no matter where he happens to be in the world. And I believe, its these tears of joy and gratitude toward their master and the world that inspire the teachers and the volunteers to share so much and so well – with absolutely no expectations.

Indeed that’s the learning – that there’s an extraordinary way to go about one’s life – being relaxed yet attentive, intensely focused, with a smile on the face, and a joy in the heart. When you work like that, I guess you are a blessing to the world.

Its an inspired way to live and work – and while a long shot, its something that I look to internalise – stay tuned for any progress updates!

Is wisdom a function of doing?

Just as I predicted, the week zoomed past. Meetings, travels, emails, the odd television show – and I am a week older. The question I thought I’d ask this week – am I wiser though?

Thinking about it, it appears to me that wisdom comes knocking when you are smart about “what to leave alone” – even more than what you have done. Take this last week – if I were to list my progress – I’d probably list these:

– facilitated a workshop – and to good response
– a couple of customer meets – again good feedback
– reviewed a few responses which sat well with the customer
– Successfully got a leader to join us
– and so on…

and on the flip side

– attended a couple of meets I wasn’t really prepared enough for/ was more ritualistic
– missed a couple of deadlines – and resolved to be more timely in the future (not that there was any catastrophe)
– just couldn’t keep my working hours to the slim ones I had planned to adhere to, they were all long days!

Now on the whole, its been a very busy week and in terms of progress a good one too. The question though is whether progress has resulted in wisdom – am I likely to bring in a whole new set of perspectives this week that I couldn’t have last week?

On reflection, the answer seems to be mostly in the negative (though some experience has been gained over the week of course..)

So, lets take the other view – what could I have left alone?

1. The customer meets and the workshop – maybe I could have given them a miss. There are several folks who can do as good a job (if not better!) saving at least 6 hours
2. Getting a leader to join in – thats important – the meet helped discuss shared values and such – will be invaluable over time
3. The travel – I could have left alone, why not work from home for a few? A back of the napkin calculation indicates I spend 1.5 to 2 working days equivalent travelling every week!
4.The reviews are in the “teaching fishing” as opposed to “gifting fishes” approach. So very worthwhile I’d think. On the other hand, getting some others interested in doing the review would be even more better – its “teaching fishing” at a whole new level!

and so on………. A quick math tells me that at the least 30-50% of stuff could have been left alone. As for the “stuff that didn’t go too well” – again many of those needn’t have been on the list in the first place. And suddenly you find there’s time for stuff you wanted to do always but never had time for – a hobby, exercising, meditation, spending time with family…

So thats the takeaway for the week. “Your time is a function of what you can leave alone and the saved time and effort can be used to help us get wiser – where wisdom can be considered as anything that enhances “you” (read body, mind, soul). You agree?

Musings on perfection – From a commentary on the Heart Sutra

The audience is shifting its legs anxiously, “hey, where’s all the spiritual stuff, the wisdom and so on this blog used to churn out – have these topics gone on a long vacation?”

OK – here goes, let me pull some stuff from a wonderful book by Ken McLeod named “An Arrow to the Heart: A commentary on the Heart Sutra”.

The answers are pulled verbatim from this book – please dive into it for more such contemplative thoughts.

Our question – When is perfection attained?

Perfection is attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away…

Our question – What are the 6 perfections?

For generosity, nothing to own

For ethics, nothing to hide

For patience, nothing to fear

For effort, nothing to achieve

For stable attention, nothing to wander

For wisdom, nothing to know

Endpoint – Contemplate a while on these – the are sure to bring in a shift in awareness …and if you love this, check out Ken McLeod’s website – its truly awesome.

Information? Reputation?

So much for that experiment! I tried to put together a small note on what I thought was priceless information and in a pocket-sized format, and there were no takers (ha, ha!)! Not the regulars, not the folks coaxed by WordPress, nor those diverted by the search engines. Maybe the time wasn’t right, it wasn’t packaged right – or maybe it just plain sucked! So, let’s do the next best thing, call it off and move on to more sturdy ground…and do some meditation on “information and reputation” instead..

It seems to me information is no longer a “differentiated and powerful” currency. It’s a commodity – we have too much of it, and we have it everywhere. We have google to look up all sorts of worldly stuff, the newspapers for keeping count of all the depressing stuff, tons of metrics (and even more dashboards) at work and the psychiatrists to tell you more about yourself than you want to know. The age of “information being power” and the “middle managers ( please click to checkout a very nice piece from HBR)” – seem truly dead. Commodity exchanges (linking farmers and marketplaces), eBay (linking vendors to clients directly), social media (connecting news sources and client) and many like these – ensure brokers are going digital everywhere. As managers, information by itself seems to be a fairly ineffective  weapon in our arsenal. The quicker we recognize it, the better – unless we’d like to figure as  another pink slip statistic!
So what do we do after decades of playing the “parse and pass information” game? Do we have an alternative? Establishing a “reputation” of being able to assimilate different information sources and providing solutions seems to be one good alternate. In other words, technical consulting, implementation and support (advisory support on a technical or business aspect), mentoring (enabling a fellow human being achieve her potential), evangelism (espousing a cause we believe in, provided its not “information brokering!”) all seem to be dimensions we should tap into to avoid the failure game. Be the best and a beacon light for the multitudes to be successful – seems to be the mantra of the day. Isn’t “reputation” the currency which makes Eliyahu GoldrattKen Blanchard, Steven Covey, Anthony Robbins, Al Gore, Dalai Lama, Eckhart Tolle and the like so very sought after?
Interestingly this “reputation” over “information” thinking seems to have pervaded the digital world too. The Wolframalpha search engine gets a lot of rave reviews due to its ability to serve you contextual info, klout scores and pinterest leaders seem to have no correlation to the account owners’ “bigness” but more on the quality and appropriateness of the content shared, quora emphatically believes that humans are better than machines at answering queries and YouTube continues to “discover” teen wonders (that was meant to shock you!).
So is this the moral – information is now hygiene – it cannot deliver greatness by itself? Are what we do with the information and how consistently we do so – what gets us the laurels?
If you are a manager, time to reach out for a  “knowledge to wisdom” transformation exercise. If we are a digital provider, time to introspect – are we an artist or a painter of houses? And is that who we want to be?

P.S: if you are intrigued by the piece that inspired the first para, I have decided to leave it in this blog (titled “mindfulness”) for a week or so…