Tag Archives: Vipassana

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.

Window Cleaning

Have you your tried to clean something which has been covered with grime and dirt? One single swipe of the finger will not do it – neither will one single swipe of a cloth. It takes time. First, you might have to let it soak in some liquid for hours and then clean it layer by layer. Now imagine – as you clean new dust settles in – it makes the task harder. Now you have to clean at a faster rate than the rate at which new dust settles. And until you get to a certain level of cleanliness, the world will look different to you. You will not be able to the see the world as it is but only through the filter of grime and dirt accumulated over ages.

Our minds are similar – we have accumulated all sorts of dust and grime over the years and some of it we pick up throughout the day without awareness. Unlike our bodies, we do not spend time cleaning our mind. What does this dust look like? For example, as you were driving to work somebody cut you off – you got annoyed and vowed not to let it happen again. Every time you drive now, you make sure that anybody who looks like he is going to cut you off- you are on it. With every thought, you are applying a layer of dust on your mind – dust that will prevent you from seeing the reality as it is (Maybe he has a sick child, a bad day, fight with a wife). We will never know the reason but our belief that he is out to get you is mostly inaccurate, and this is what constitutes the dust.

Light shining through glass privacy window. Abstract background

Let’s say you are listening or reading to the news – all the news about abuse, corruption leaves a not so pleasant taste in your mind and at the same time clouds your mind with its dust. The movies you watch, the conversations you have, people you hang out with – all leave a residue on your mind. And more you do it more it happens – mostly unaware because we believe that we are not actively participating in it, but your mind is always active.

All this dirt and grime in our mind is what constitutes to ignorance and makes us believe we are separate from one another. My main aim in life is to be a better version of myself every day – clean this dirt thoroughly – turn my mind into a surface where dust is unable to stick. Only when we wipe the dirt in our mind does wisdom arise. One of the ways to gain wisdom is to get rid of ignorance. And that means cleaning the windows so that you can at least get a small patch of light through which shows you a glimpse of what the real world looks like.

We are starting with so many accumulated layers of dust that it is in some ways a miracle that we all humans live and function despite all the dirt clouding our judgment. The first step towards a clear mind is awareness – know that you have filters on and if it calls to you then immerse yourself in a good spiritual book, do yoga or meditate.

Most importantly recognize that there is a layer of dust!

Let it go!

In Creativity and Personal Mastery course, prof.Rao tells us a story.
A baby is happily drinking his bottle of milk. Let’s say you take it away. The baby’s face gets all red, and he bawls his little lungs out. There is no mistaking that he is upset. And when you give the bottle back to him, he goes back to drinking milk again as nothing happened. At this moment the baby has completely let go of the fact that you took the bottle away.

Something happens to us when we grow up – we learn to hold onto things. We learn to re-live what happened in our mind and replay it again and again. Sadly, we forget how to let go. Holding on to things also prevents us from being fully present at the moment. If your bag is already filled with stuff then how will you find space for new things. If your jar is already full – how can anything else come in.

We clean our bodies every day to make sure that all the dirt and grime from the day is washed away. But we do not do this for our minds which have rolling in one thing after the other and picking up whatever comes our way. Let’s face it, in our human condition how much ever we try we are not always conscious of what our mind is experiencing. Meditation morning and evening is one way to clean our minds. Letting go is a part of it – when you meditate you watch the thoughts pass away without becoming the thoughts – and thus allowing them to go.

Another way to let go is to watch your thoughts – through the mind chatter itself. That is the beauty and the curse of human existence. Our thoughts are what makes us hold on to things, and our thoughts are what help us let them go as well. Next time your mind starts replaying a scenario or rides off on the train of bitterness – don’t fight it, don’t get upset – watch the train go and enjoy the journey not as a passenger but as an observer. And when we do that we are no longer holding onto things, in fact, we are happily standing by waving our goodbyes.

When things expire in our kitchen do we still hold on to them – no we throw them in the trash because consuming them will be harmful to us. Similarly, for the thoughts/things that have expired – let them go – throw them in the garbage and make space for new things to come in. The expiration of thoughts is not as tangible as the products in our kitchen, and sometimes we are afraid of new ideas – so we hold on to what we know even if it is harmful to us.

Like all things in life, this is easier said than done but that said the only way to do such things is to start with awareness – all you have to do is shine your light on holding on to things and they will automatically let go.

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!

Choose Where You Live

I am not talking about your physical location like home, town or state but the one place where you are present constantly – you never leave that place even for a second: Your Mind.

What comes to your mind when you listen to this song?
What do you think of when you smell the scents of foods that your mom used to cook?
What do you think of when you see two friends giggling over something?

The above items trigger memories or lead our mind in specific directions. For me when I listen to the song I immediately think of the dance steps involved in the song, I also think of all the fun we have had in our class whenever we have done that song. The smile that comes on students faces when they realize that it is this song – I remember the joy we shared when we all watched the movie. It takes me a to a happy place.

Now, it is possible that the same song might take me to a different place. It might remind me of a friendship that no longer exists; it might recall my breakups (a scene in the movie). In this case, it is taking me to a not so happy place.

Do we have a choice in where our mind takes us? One would like to think so.
Let’s talk about the memories that we already have, the ones created in the past. In most cases, we flow where they take us. When the memories were created, we had limited understanding of the world around us (This is based on the assumption that you mature every year – as you grow). Let’s say as a kid your best friend who loved potato fries left you for another friend. And it left such an impact on you that you have hated potato fries since then.

At that time it was so painful that you were trying to come to terms with what you labeled “betrayal” from your best friend. To ask you to interpret the situations in different ways at that time would be an almost impossible task. But, now after all these years when the topic of that friend pops up in a conversation – what comes to your mind? The betrayal or the moments that you enjoyed as a best friend. Our mind is very tricky and unfortunately has been conditioned to focus on the one moment of betrayal and ignore all the other beautiful moments. One way to change this is to focus on the good memories and ignore the betrayal.

You are the director of your movie, and you get to choose what shots you keep and which shots you discard – but the trick is we forget that we are the director – we identify so strongly with that one scene of betrayal that its the only that exists for us. The first step is to acknowledge that there are lots of moments and accept that I have a choice.

Next time your mind decides to take you on a tragic journey – change the channel – live the life you wanted – it is as simple as this.>

Likes and Dislikes

Story 1: For almost a year in a row I had two apples for breakfast every day. I would wake up in the morning, use my apple corer, fill up a plastic cup and eat them during the car ride to the office. It was convenient, healthy and kept the doctor away. I don’t really care for apples though.

Story 2: I usually wear dresses to the office, personal choice. I like wearing dresses because they are more feminine. The day I turned up wearing jeans on Friday I got a lot of surprised looks and comments. During winter or around fall I wore jeans to the office during most Fridays. One of my colleagues pointed it out and said, “I thought you didn’t like wearing jeans.”

Story 3: I was introduced to Bikram Yoga by a friend in London. And I loved it so much that we rented a flat next to the studio. I went to the studio almost every day for two years. Then I stopped doing yoga altogether for six months and haven’t practiced Bikram Yoga since then.

This post is about likes and dislikes. I may like or dislike something but that doesn’t mean I am bound by some law to do what I like and not do what I dislike. For me, practicality and convenience overcome likes and dislikes. Eating an apple for breakfast made my life easy.
I was feeling cold in office and jeans kept me warm. It doesn’t matter whether I like jeans or not – for me being warm was more important than wearing cotton pants which by the way I do like.
My likes and dislikes change. I have no control over them like in the case of Bikram Yoga, hence I do not see the value in tying myself to my own likes and dislikes which change and are fleeting. Never say never.

We all have our pet peeves and the way we like things. We might like our eggs to be a certain way, we might like our co-workers to be a certain way or not be a certain way. The way we like our parents to behave, our partners to react, our pets to act… The list is endless.

That said I am also guilty of having an attachment to the things I like – I love having Indian tea with milk even though I am trying to go Vegan. I dislike drinking. We all have a strong attachment to things we like and aversion to the things we dislike. There is nothing wrong with liking or disliking something – we don’t have a choice. Our subconscious has already judged something but we do have control over our attachment or aversion to something.

Another thing is to note is that our likes and dislikes really don’t matter. We may not like rain but if it is raining we have three choices a) be upset about it (if you dislike rain) b) be happy about it (if you like rain) c) don’t care because it doesn’t matter to you. None of these three choices change the fact that it is raining. 99% of the time life is that way – the reality as it is doesn’t change and we have the freedom to choose our response to it.

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.

Beginning with a Yes!!!

At a CPM reunions, one of my friends suggested the idea of a improv – one of the first things he said is that you have to start with an Yes. I found that exercise very difficult because it meant I needed to put the BIG “I” behind and go with the flow. It was not easy for me to just accept what the person in front of me was saying and build on it – I wanted to show my smartness by contradicting or trying to prove I was right.. It didn’t come easy to me.

I remember my first course as a server in Vipassana at London. I had sat three courses and the feeling to serve arose in me – as you know Vipassana courses are all volunteer led. Many people had served me when I sat my three course and now it was my time to give back. I showed up at the door and remember saying “I am here to serve.” Those words made a difference to me – I was ready to put the I behind and serve. And I ended up serving as a course manager – someone who is the conduit between students and the staff/teachers etc. And one of the rules of conduct includes that we don’t give advice – we only listen and direct as needed to staff/teachers. And we also served the teachers. I found myself saying yes at the beginning of every sentence – regardless of the what the question/ask from me was – my attitude was “Yes, I am here to serve.” It was very helpful to live in a space where I put others in front of me. I learnt a lot in that course both knowingly and unknowingly.

I came back and found that my daily practice has been established – Dhamma does work.

Coming back to real life there is so much power in saying yes to everything that happens, people asking you difficult questions/emails that need to be answered/swimming classes/dance classes – in short life. How many times have you resisted something and it has still happened? Why lose energy in resisting something when it is what is? Yes- means accepting life as it is regardless of your liking. Your likes/dislikes in essence don’t matter – what matters is what needs to be done and doing it.

In a gamble between life and you – I would place my bet on life and win 100%. Man proposes – God disposes. This does not mean if somebody asks you to harm yourself you say yes – no it means saying yes to the fact that this is what is happening and then reacting to it – but see here is the main difference you won’t be reacting, you will be acting if you have accepted the situation and a much better position to come from.

The more we show up with a Yes- with willingness to serve the more we are putting others in front of I. More we do that more the I flourishes – this is one of the paradoxes of life.