Tag Archives: Meditation

Hard Vs.Tough

I gave a talk on Leadership yesterday at an undergraduate class, my first ever talk as a leader officially. The students asked a lot of questions at the end of the, and on my way back I was thinking about the talk and life in general. That’s when I realized the difference between Hard and Tough.

Dictionary meaning of Hard is: with a great deal of effort.
Dictionary meaning of Tough is: strong enough to withstand adverse conditions or rough or careless handling.

I think Hard is more in the intellectual space and Tough in the heart space. For example, one might find equations hard to understand but if you work hard enough or a good tutor explains them to you-you will understand it. Whereas Tough to me is, you might know that ‘Be Kind to everyone’ but it is tough to do that in your life.

If something is hard to do, then you can do it by working hard – it’s a matter of practice and perseverance. Tough things in life are ‘harder’ to master even if they are not hard to understand.

I want to focus on the ‘Tough’ things because they are overlooked most of the time in favor of hard work. Everybody believes that you work hard, network hard you will get a promotion. Very few people will tell you that – if you authentically work on yourself – promotion will come to you. Why? Because it is easy to work hard but tough to work on oneself.

Why is it tough to work on oneself? Let’s take the most straightforward example out there – eating healthy. All of us are well aware and on a journey to eat healthy right? It is not hard to understand that we should eat healthy but tough to do it. Why is it tough to do it? Because we give in to the short term pleasure than long term gain. We have been trained to sprint and not for marathons. Or, is it because we do not have will power. Let’s call this our ToughHandler Muscle. We never work on strengthening this muscle – we work on building our physical body, family, bank balance but the essential thing ToughHandler – we forget. For some people, the concept of ToughHandler does not even exist. They are so engrossed in getting to the destination that they have forgotten to take care of the car that is going to get them there.

How to work on this ToughHandler Muscle then? First and foremost, is Awareness. If you are not aware of something how can you do anything about it? Well, now you know about it. Next practice it – how, whatever way calls out to you – Meditation, stay away from sugar for a day, for a week, for a month. The possibility of you failing to do this is high because you have started the journey and ToughHandler muscle is weak but with continuous practice, it will be strengthened and will help you prepare the marathon that life is.

How will you strengthen your ToughHandler muscle today?

Every Moment – Change

In the ten-day Vipassana course, Goenka Ji tells us lots of stories. My mind wandered over to the following story today.
Goenka Ji asks that the light bulbs we have in our houses – they appear to remain the same for a long time, if they do not change then why do we pay electricity bills?
Similarly, the candle flame appears to remain the same, but after a few minutes or hours it grows smaller in size, right?

Even though the candle flame and the light bulb appear to remain the same – they are changing every second. Every second the old flame dies, and the new one takes its place. But it happens so fast that our naked eye cannot see it – hence the illusion that the flame/light bulb remains the same.

Similarly, we change every moment too – that is why we grow old. The change that happens is not only at the physical level but also at a mental level. We are adapting every minute and at some point, the change accumulates, and it manifests itself. Whether, we like it or not, whether we believe it or not change is the only constant in our inner selves.

If change is the only constant then why do people find change so hard not only in ourselves but also in others? When I lived in London, I had a thriving social life, and that meant talking to a lot of people mostly about the same topics. I told my ‘story’ around the theme so much that the story became a reality and then a belief because I invested my emotional energy talking about it. For example, I was a devoted Bikram Yoga practitioner for two years, and that meant for two years the story was that I go to Bikram yoga every day – it was the staple fodder of all my conversations for those two years. And one day I woke up and decided that I have had enough – it was more work to relay the change in my story to others after that – because in thier and my mind I was going to do Bikram Yoga every day forever. And who knows how many of those two years was because of the story I was telling myself and others – if I did not have the story then maybe I might have stopped sooner.

Bikram Yoga is just one example, but this permeated in every aspect of my life. I felt bound by the stories I was telling others because it was harder to change them even if I had moved on from that old story. When I moved to Columbus, it was freeing because I could be who I wanted. And it gave me the space to explore, try and fail and adopt new realities.

I am not advocating that having social circle is a problem, all I am pointing out is that change is the constant and sometimes the stories we tell ourselves and others prevent us from making a change because the story continues to gain our emotional energy and becomes a prison from which we find hard to break.

What story will you break free from, today?

Camera Lens

I practice Vipassana Meditation – Vipassana in Pali means “To see things as they are”.

And in the book Non Violent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg he also talks about “Observing without judgment”.

At one level it makes perfect sense – how can we live in this world if we are not able to see things as they are?. If you see a red apple, you see a red apple. If you see a tall building, you see a tall building. It is easy to see the reality as it is in such matters.

But, how about when you look at your best friend talking to somebody else, and you think, “she does not love me anymore.”
Or, when you see someone else and think, “He is so much more handsome than me.”
Or, you see somebody at work and think, “Man, I will never be like that person.”

Now, in these instances are you seeing the reality as it is? And these are the situations when we should see the truth as it is and not as we would like it to be.

When a baby is born in the world, let’s assume that they start with a clean slate (not getting into past karma) – They should be able to see the reality as it is right? Is that true? If your parents smoked when you were a kid smoking will not be a bad thing for you, and that’s your reality but is it how things are in the world. From the time we are born we are creating our realities – as we grow up we have created the world we live in and the illusion is so strong that it is almost real.

When the seed of enlightenment sprouts within you (because all human beings have the seed) then we have a desire to see who we are. And we start exploring which leads us to things like NVC, Vipassana, CPM, etc. And what these things do is to give us a way to see within ourselves – look inward because from the time we are born we are always outward focused. And when we look inward and can understand the inner workings of our body and mind, we move one step closer to realization. One way to start is to look at life as you are looking at it from a camera lens – for example, “All you see is your best friend talking to somebody else.” (not that she does not like you anymore).

Then the question arises – how do we know that what we are experiencing is the ultimate reality? This is where my favorite quote comes in as the answer, “In this plane, there are no answers, and beyond this plane, there is nobody to ask the question.”

One thing is for sure, what you experience right now is your reality, and that is as good as any the place to start from. Maybe when you start you blame the other party 100%, and maybe after working on oneself for a while you will begin to see your part in what happened, and as you continue to work on yourself you will eventually come to the realization that whatever happens is 100% because of you whether you know it or not. Once we accept this reality as our real progress begins – changes truly start from within. And we are more focused because we are not distracted by what others are doing but what is going on inside of oneself.

Food For Soul

Have you ever had an experience where you had met a good friend(s) and left feeling more energized than when you entered the conversation?
Have you ever watched a movie or read a book which inspires you to be creative and leaves your mind buzzing?
Have you ever watched somebody speak and felt the energy change in the room – People came in angry but leave hugging one another?

These are all examples of soul food – that nourishes your soul, not your body or your intellect. So, what do we mean by soul food?

No Judgements or comparisons – instances where you are just yourself without the fear of being judged or being not loved or pressure of being a certain way because that is how it is supposed to be.

Laughter – not a superficial laugh but laughter that starts in your belly and resonates in your entire body. These moments become memories or mental screensavers that bring laughter to you whenever you think about it.

Nonsensical – there is something to be said about the times when it does not matter what utter nonsense comes out of your mind/mouth but it all makes sense because the sense of connection is much deeper than words.

Energy – instances where no matter how you felt at the beginning of the interaction, by the end of it there is a change for the better.

At Ease – we do not realize this because most of the time our bodies are not at ease – they are clenched in some area or the other, and sadly, we are so accustomed to it that it is our default state. However, when you have soul food your body is at ease – complete ease – there is no disease.

I am sure you could relate to one or more of the above instances. Why is the soul food important? Because this is what keeps us sane, keeps us who we are and not what others think who we are. If we lose touch with who we are then why do we even exist?. And just like your body which needs sustenance to continue your soul needs nourishment to maintain the life force which is inside all of us.

In an ideal world, all that we would consume would be soul food, unfortunately, or fortunately, the world we live in cares only about intellect and the outer skin and not about the deepest core which is what connects us all humankind with the planet earth. If we were really on soul food all the time we would be more connected with the planet earth – we will see the trees on this planet as the ‘lungs’ in our body and take more care of them. We will be kind to our fellow humans because we would see them as ourselves.

We are so distanced from each other that we are losing touch with ourselves – and if we cannot retain the bond with ourselves how will we ever connect with others. There are many ways to access soul food – the first step is being aware of the hunger for soul food. Are you hungry, now?

I am here to serve

I did my first 10-day Vipassana course in Delhi, Gurgaon. Vipassana meditators run all the Vipassana courses on a volunteer basis – nobody is paid. They do it because they want to and genuinely too. I had to do two more courses before the desire to serve arose in me.

I remember standing at the door in Dhamm Dipa in London and saying aloud for the first time in my life – “I am here to serve.” Vipassana changed my life and continues to change my life – it is hard work, I won’t lie, but it does change the grand canyons I have built in mind consciously or unconsciously. This blog is dedicated to Vipassana and S.N.Goenka who brought this course to the rest of the world from Burma.

If you have ever done one of the 10-day courses in Vipassana as taught by S.N.Goenka, then the following will resonate with you – more so if you have served.

One of the rules we have to observe is segregation between males and females – they have separate quarters, separate dining rooms, etc. When we (dhamma servers as Goenka Ji likes to call us) are preparing meals in the kitchen, you will hear statements like
– Is the female rice ready?
– Do we need Male Olive Oil?
Everything is divided into three categories – female, male or serve because that is how we partition food and prepare the dining rooms and set the food out.

Second, gongs – I never wear my watch in Vipassana because life is so simple and everything is announced with a gong. There is a morning gong that wakes you up, gong before every lunch, gong after breaks, gong before group sits. If you miss the gong – the course manager will make sure you don’t forget. And I remember the first time I rang the gong – the vibrations from the gong centered me to the core.

Third, silence. It is a silent retreat. You do not speak unless asking for supplies or questions for the teacher when you are sitting a course. While serving there is talking but very less, and all the students are silent. There is something about the quietness that lets you hear the incessant chatter of the mind and move towards just observing it and not becoming it. Nine days of silence increases the depth to which you explore with every course.

At the end of the course, Goenka Ji says that one of the reasons there is no charge for the Vipassana course is – “What price will you pay?” The teaching is so invaluable there is nothing you can pay that can compare to the value you get. There are some things in life which are truly priceless, and Vipassana is one such gem for me.

I am eternally grateful
– to Buddha for discovering it
– to all the teachers who maintained the teaching
– to Goenka Ji who helped spread it to the rest of the world where I could receive it
– that I got the human birth
– that I was born in a period where dhamma in its pure form is being taught

My heart overflows with gratitude.
May all beings be happy!

We are all Mad

Adam and I were walking to a coffee shop downtown. I saw this lanky young man with a head full of thick curls walking towards us. He was talking non-stop and was holding onto his pants. As he walked past us I realized that he was talking to himself and not on bluetooth as I had assumed.

For some reason him talking to himself stayed with me for a while. I asked my husband, “What goes through your mind when you see a mad person talking to himself?” His answer was,”Compassion. I think that homeless people are judged twice – once because of their condition and second because of the way we treat them – with fear, pity , ignorance.” Did I ever tell you that Adam is a really nice guy?

My initial thought when I see a crazy person is Fear but not because I am afraid of them. I am scared that there is a very fine line that separates me from them. He talks out aloud where as my mind talks inside all the time. I will be honest and this is not an original thought (if there is such a thing). I read this in the opening pages of the Tolle’s Power Of Now. I read that book about ten years ago now and I am still evolving.

If you want to experiment – just sit quietly and watch where your monkey mind goes. There is no end to the branches it climbs. There is no rhyme or reason to the thoughts – there is no method to madness here. We all carry our monkey mind with us every moment of our living lives.

The difference between crazy person and sane person is that sane person does not talk his thoughts aloud. Probably because sane person is aware that is not accepted social behavior and partially because at some level he knows that whatever goes through his mind is not real. We can distinguish between what is real and what is not at some level. It is a very fine line though.

There is another distinguishing factor – sane person knows that he is not his mind chatter to a certain extent. Let’s say you are in an argument and your mind chatter is running amuck. It’s telling you how the other person is out to get you, they are lying etc etc. There are sometimes when you don’t listen to the mind chatter and you remain calm but there are times when you get carried away with what your mind is telling you. And you become your mind chatter – that’s when we have lost our balance. To use another analogy our head is under water,we have lost touch with what is real and we cannot see clearly. The times when we can ignore our mind chatter, realize that there are two sides to a story and stay calm are the times when our head is above the water.

The human life itself is a very precious gift and being able to watch our mind chatter is another gift – let’s make the most of it.

That person does not exist

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.

Right Path

Let’s take a scenario: You have a early morning meeting at work. And for some reason you slept late the previous night and woke up late. You forgot to make your lunch and it’s your turn to take the puppy out for a morning walk.

I am sure all of us have experienced the following scenarios
1.You work up feeling really great, early morning hour traffic was non existent, your husband decided to take the puppy out – things just flowed and it felt as if the universe was going out of its way to ensure you get to the meeting. And you reached your office in plenty of time and even managed to get Starbucks coffee on your way in.

2. You woke up feeling grumpy,not only you have to take the dog out but also drop him to the day care, and there was an accident on top of the rush hour traffic and by the time you reached office you had missed a couple of meetings and rest of the day was not looking that great either.

There are lots of other examples of being in the flow – when the mojo is just right. Like for one person the promotion was like a cakewalk where as for somebody it took them years. We have all had experiences where it felt as if you were making things happen and also when everything that could go wrong went wrong. And most of the times there is no direct connection between what you did to “deserve” one of the above options.

This is why I love the book “The Artist’s way” by Julia Cameron – she has a way of saying things very clearly and seems to touch a chord in almost all of us in some shape or form if we are ready for it.

If we are on the right track – the one that will make us a better human being then things will happen – timing might not be as we expected but they will. Even when we think the things are not happening as we want them – what is happening is what we exactly need. Like a kid who has a cold but refuses to take the medicine because its bitter but that’s exactly what the doctor ordered.

So then how can we make sure we are in the flow or on the right track. Let’s say you plant a seed of a Neem tree (a very bitter medicinal plant) and you stand in front of it and say “I want sweet mangoes, I want sweet mangoes.” There is no way you are going to get sweet mangoes – you will get bitter Neem leaves only. It is the law of nature – similarly if we plant bitter seeds in our life then we will bear bitter fruits and if plant good seeds then we will taste sweet mangoes in our life. [Credit of the story goes to Goenka Ji from Vipassana]

What are bitter and good seeds then? If we think kind thoughts,do good deeds, enjoy the success of others – these are examples of good seeds. And if we keep cursing others, calling them names when they are not looking or try to prove them wrong so that we can prove ourselves right, take joy in other’s plight then we are planting bitter seeds.

The picture below says it all

Running Away

The story goes – Abraham Lincoln’s brother wrote him a letter stating that he wanted to move from his current location because he didn’t like the people, didn’t like the place. His brother moved places and after a few months the same story and the same letter to Lincoln. Lincoln wrote back and said, “How could you expect anything to change when you took the problem with you?”

Let’s look at another example, you have got a boil on your arm that refuses to go away and causes a lot of pain. You keep changing the shirts and even move places but the pain does not go away. Any logical person would point out that how could the pain go away when the problem is in you?

It all seems very logical and common sense to us now. How about the situation in our life when we wished that somebody would leave our team? if only the family member we found annoying would go away? If only the next guy I date was really serious? If only the difficult stakeholder would get a new job? If only my boss would quit? The list is endless – everybody else should go away because I am squeaky clean. Sounds familiar?

The world is like a mirror – it reflects back only you. Everybody including the people you like, don’t like, detest, hate, care about are all showing you some part of yourself. If you take it a step further then you actually created them in some sense too, but let’s leave that for now. Wishing other people to go away is not going to take away your problem unless the root of the problem is solved. And it is all within us and we have the power to change ourselves but often times we don’t because it is easy to blame others and be a victim as then I don’t have to do anything else.

Universe wants the best for you and like a loving parent will do whatever it takes to make you better or learn the lesson so that you can grow. And like the casino , universe wins ALL the time so you better listen to it. If you don’t pay attention to its small nudges it will give you a tight slap but it will make you learn the lesson.

Next time when you find the person who annoys you in your life be grateful as now universe is offering you a chance to learn the lesson. Make the most of it with gratitude and courage. It take courage to face our fears and work on one self. The hardest part for working on ourself is that the image we have of ourself breaks and we don’t like that. In our mind we have this lovely beautiful image – I am so great, I am so this and that. And when somebody comes into our life and shows the mirror to us we don’t like what the mirror shows so we blame the person showing the mirror.

As Goenka ji says in Vipassana – if we become aware that we have created the image and have become attached to it. And it’s that attachment that is causing us suffering then light will shine.

Khanti – Patience , Forbearance,Forgiveness

In one of my previous blogs I had talked about the 10 Paramis or Virtues. Today I want to talk about one of them which is

6. Khanti: Patience
May I ever be patient.
May I be able to bear and forbear the wrongs of others.
May I ever be tolerant and see the good and beautiful in all.

Like everything else this also has many layers to it. First stage is trying to get over the fact that it doesn’t matter if I think the other party is wrong or right – focus is on me being able to bear it and be calm about it. Second stage is just the limits to which you can bear it – like my previous blog about bending in the wind. If you are working to develop this parami then with every such incident in your life you bend a little bit more before you snap right back up. And like all great things in life this takes practice too. The more you practice the more you will be able to bend without breaking or snapping up.

Forbearance or self-control is the ability to exercise restraint, to stay in balance. It is disciplining yourself to be measured and temperate in your response to trying circumstances. It is being patient and even keeled while enduring hardships. It is having the ability to constrain your own worst impulses and allowing thoughtful, wiser aspects of yourself to govern what you say and do.

Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should. Forbearance protects us against doing harm on impulse in the throes of anger or fear. Since so much of virtue is about finding a balance point between two kinds of excess, forbearance helps to keep us close to the center of our better selves.

What does it mean for us in real life? If somebody is annoying you then a)you don’t get annoyed b)you are still at peace c)you are grateful to that person for helping you strengthen your practice of Khanti. This depends on what your overall goal is – let’s say your goal in life is to get retired at the age of 50 or another goal could be to the better version of myself. How you approach a situation will depend on what goals you have? If all you care about is making money and retiring early then you will have a short-sighted approach. Where as if you want to be happy peaceful forever you will adopt a long term strategy of developing your patience.

It is possible that you can still practice patience with the goal of retiring early – the point is sometimes you have to revisit your ultimate goal to put this virtue into practice. These things take time and when the student is ready the teacher does appear. And also it depends on how important it is for your to develop this virtue? To reach to the point of ultimate patience is really long and every journey starts with small steps – it is only by taking one step a time then we complete out journey with Patience!