Breathing – one of the activities in life which we don’t think about much (mostly). Breath is unique in many ways and is actually the life force that drives us. The day you stop breathing is when you die and the day you started breathing is when you started living.
First thing about breath is that it is both voluntary and involuntary. What do I mean by that? Let’s say I ask you to move your arm up and down – you can do it easily right. The arm does what you want it to do. Now, if I ask you to make your heart beat twice as fast – can you do it? No, you have no control over the heart. Breathing is unique because you can control it if you want like your arm or it can go on by itself like your heart. Can you imagine how your life would have been if you had do the breathing voluntarily – you won’t be doing much else in our lives except breathing.
This leads us into the second thing which is that “Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again.”
Watching the breath can be fascinating if you can get your mind to focus on breathing first. Have you ever noticed that when you get angry then your breath becomes labored or faster than usual. Not only anger – any negative feeling like Hate,Jealousy and your natural rhythm of breathing is disturbed. Why is that?
At a chemical level your body produces hormones that induce the fight or flight reaction but the basic reason is that your mind and body are connected. Or unconscious and conscious are connected via breath. When you get angry your thoughts are predominately negative and your breathing becomes faster. Now, let’s say you are berating the child with love – your thoughts are predominantly positive and your breathing remains normal. Thus, breathing rhythm is the litmus test to validate what state of mind are you in currently.This explains how the breath connects the mind to the body or as we said before our unconscious and conscious.
Ok, so now we know that breath is the bridge – so how does this help us? Let’s say you are having a conversation with a friend which is taking a turn for the worse – now, if you are aware of breath then you can proactively lead the conversation away from conflict or at the very least make sure that you don’t lose your mental balance. This ensures that you do not generate any negativity. And if you notice most of the fights happen before they even begin – they start in your mind. If you are going to speak to somebody who is annoying you then chances are you are not approaching them with loving kindness thoughts. Now at that time if you became aware of your breath will it still result in the same outcome? Probably not. So Breath is a tool for us to be aware of our state of mind, prevent negative thoughts from arising or if they arise then helps them keep them in check.
Awareness of breathing is not as easy as it sounds but all great journeys begin with one step. If you are aware of your breath at least once a day – you are on your way to reach the ultimate goal.
I recently attended a CPM alumni retreat in London. And it has been a decade since I took the course first at London Business School. In the first class Prof. Rao invited us speak about what we want from the class. And at that time I was at crossroads in my life journey – on how I want to live my life. I asked – “I would like to know by the end of the course what choice should I make?” And prof. replied, “Well, I am not sure if you will find answers but you will definitely have more questions.”
That answer did leave me perplexed because I believed that all things should have an answer – a very clear, direct, black and white answer. And CPM started me on a spiritual journey and I haven’t looked back since then. I started doing yoga, meditating seriously, hanging out with the likes of Eckhart Tolle, Ramana Maharishi and recently I discovered Michael Singer. And ten years have gone by and I meet people who are starting on the journey. I find that my language has changed since I started and sometimes I am not able to relate at that level. And I discussed this with prof. and he said, “Of course, that would be the case because the person who took the course first time does not exist anymore.”
That was that – as simple as that. And it is true isn’t it, all of us are no longer that person anymore and that is how nature intended – change is constant after all. But some of use refuse to let our old selves go and we hang on to them and wonder why we are not evolving.
It’s like you had a tiff with somebody ten years ago and you decided you are going to remember the hurt forever and in some cases we even say, “I will remember this for seven lifetimes.” Well, have fun hanging on to the hurt that was probably caused by some misunderstanding on your part. This is just one example of how we do not let ourselves go. Yes, we hang on these bits and add to the building blocks of our prison.
Our existence on earth is not a sprint its a marathon and you have no way of figuring out who started out when. But, if you believe that you have evolved then you act as a guidepost for other people who are on the same track like how people ahead of you did for you. All the people in your life, all the interactions you have are sign posts to guide you on your journey. It doesn’t matter whether you liked them or not. For example, you are on your way from A to B and a signpost points to the left and says B <-- This way. But you decide to go forward because you don't like the color of the signpost. It doesn't matter what the color is - what matters is the direction on it.
That person does not exist anymore – it is really powerful to know that at many different layers.
Let’s take two scenarios.
Scenario 1: You are having a really busy day – rushing from one thing to the other. You have had a whirlwind day – and you have got 15 minutes before you get on tube. You have been looking forward to the 15 minute break all day long and one of your old acquaintance from school calls you. She is looking for a job in your area and needs to touch base with you. Chances are that you are curt or don’t listen to her or listen to her but you just want the call to end. Or you may decide not to even pick up the call.
Scenario 2: Same day as before. And your sister calls you – you pick up the phone and are ready to do whatever she wants – even if it is a catch up.
Now in the above scenario the acquaintance/sister could be anybody can be but the point is if it is somebody you really care about that the conversation is really different. You are coming from a different space and are a different person as opposed to the one in Scenario 1.
Why is that? I am guessing its because we really care for person in scenario 1 than in scenario 2. And when we really care for that person we put them ahead of us – we move from being in a me-centered universe to a other centered universe [Exercises we learnt in CPM]. We are not thinking about how the 15 minute call is impacting me but instead we are thinking about how we can be of service to the other person even if it is by listening.
And in the above two scenarios our behavior was automatic as we have a relationship with those people which has grown organically that way. We did not consciously think about how we are going to behave with them. The key is we can choose the space where we come from regardless of who we are talking to. With people we care about this happens naturally. But next time our friend calls we can choose to be in that space where we are thinking about them.
I am not suggesting that we do this all day long – it would be ideal if we had the capacity to do so without disturbing our inner peace. But it seems like a good world to live in where we put everybody else ahead of us and are truly happy doing that. More and more we live in that space the more easier and nicer our life will be.
I am sure you are thinking if I do that more and more who will do my stuff? What about my thoughts and opinions? The answer is if you put others ahead of yourself the universe will do the same for you. If you don’t believe in the universe or an higher paper then I invite you to think – how important or crucial is the thing or comment you need to tell as opposed to listening. And in the previous example you were ready to use the 15 minutes for your sister so all we need to do is to expand the circle where we include more and more people.
In our recent trip to London I could not help but wonder on how different my mind and body react to being in London. The tall buildings – crowds of people around you – the buzz of the tubes, buses which you do not notice anymore. I automatically start to walk fast, whiz through the tubes with oyster card. It’s like my body relaxes and my mind feels safe.
I feel safe and at home amongst the tall buildings and the crowds. It is amongst crowds that I truly am myself because no one is watching but I feel connected. It is ironic but you have to know the rhythm of the city before you can connect to it. Cities have a rhythm of their own – it’s like a drum beat, once you know the beat you are good until then it feels very unfriendly and foreign. The connection in the city is not very obvious – slap on the back type connection. This type of connection goes beyond the ‘How are you? and the weather talk.” These are built in by the common experiences of living in a city – the waiting for the tubes, the annoying way the tourists stand on the right had side of escalators, London weather, the times when you catch another stranger’s eye in the tube and share a silent smile over something funny.
Before I left for London somebody asked me, “So, when you come back will you have a British accent?” I laughed and said,”No, nobody British lives in London.” The following is a picture I took one day in tube – this is what I mean.
Everybody is from outside so you don’t feel out of place. Now of course this is true for people who have led a urban nomadic life – by that I mean never stayed in one place forever. In my narrow view of the world there are two kinds of people one who travel [Like Live in different cities not just tourist] and one who don’t. And neither is good or bad – it is what lifestyle suits you. But they both are a world apart in every way you can think of.
In someways it is the difference between lonely and alone. When you are in a city you are alone but lonely. And that is a huge difference. Being alone is a state of being and Being lonely is a state of mind. And I am just talking about my experience here – I am sure for others it doesn’t matter where they live. We all came alone into the world and we will go alone out of the world too. Whatever happens in the middle is only a journey which we all travel inner-ly, it does not matter whether we have companions or not.
We are like an outsider for our inner self who is traveling alone in this journey called Life.
We lived in London for seven years before moving to Columbus. I am fortunate enough to have explored London in different phases. You experience a different London when you are a student – a different one when you are working – a different one when you are on paid holiday. London is the locus if you are into traveling so a lot of people visited us – in fact my dad used to joke that our place was like a B&B and with that comes a truckload of memories. Also the time in London was my phase of self-exploration and I spent a lot of time with lots of people – which again has a lot of memories attached to it. When we lived in London it wasn’t evident but when you come back to London I realized how every place/cafe at least in central London is like a memory stone.
Next year we would have spent five years in Columbus. And one would think that London would feel strange after having lived in Columbus for so long. But thankfully that wasn’t the case. It felt like as if we had never left – like we belonged..
Primarily its because of the connection with the people. I met up with my friend – Ranjani and we started off where we left. It was just like old days – we curled up on the sofa with a throw, had tea and chatted. It’s funny how somethings never change or rather they just follow the same path – we joke about her tea making process, spoke about common friends before moving onto what’s happening in our lives. It’s a straight cut to the chase – no formalities or talking about the weather if you get my drift. Such interactions are precious.
Another reason is the city itself – everybody is from outside so if you have led a nomadic life then you know what I mean.
One morning we went to one of our regular haunts Costa café on Tottenham Court Road and plonked down with our electronic devices. The old couches had been replaced with the swanky chairs but the drink/ambience was the same. And then one of our friends Nick walked in and it seriously felt like old days. There is something so comfortable about hanging out with old friends – almost like muscle memory feels very familiar and comforting. And it happens on its own.
We spent a lovely day with another couple talking about food, being vegan, cycling, podcasting, dance classes. The range of topics we talk about is so different because London opens up your horizons – just living in a city which is so diverse in every which way makes you more accepting and broad minded. As you walk down streets or in the tube and you hear people talking in their native language it feels like home. I don’t feel like an outsider any more – I feel like I belong.
Walk down the SouthBank with one of Adam’s good friend – Viktor made me feel like we had never left London. The same familiar sights – book market/ Wahaca food truck/ ping pong and the hoards of people crossing from Waterloo station to South Bank. It felt so familiar – things have changed and they haven’t
We even made it out to my old Flat in St. Johnswood and as we crossed over to Regent’s park the single decker red 274 Bus was a familiar sight. We have so many memories associated with this bus. It was our single connection to the school while we were students at London Business School. And most of the time it was a race between us and the bus to see who could get there faster. And it was funny how every time you waited for the bus it never showed up and the minute you decided you had enough and you want to walk to school it will show up.
The first few days have been a whirlwind however they filled up my reservoir of memories in my emotional tank which I did not realize needed filling.