Tag Archives: #vipassana #sila #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?

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.

The Capital “I”

I am reading this book called ‘Ego is the enemy.’ One of the speakers at my work mentioned this book and like all things that are on your path call out to you – this book did too. I have been fascinated by ego and always wondered if I have a big ego or not. One of the reasons is that I am very high on an individualistic scale. I love to stand apart, need a high degree of independence and freedom of expression. I also aim high and seem to enjoy power which are the trappings of Ego. And as one progresses on the corporate ladder it becomes even more tricky hence the need to read the book. Now, I haven’t finished the book but that is not a requirement for me to write a blog on ego so here we go.

To begin with Ego is not a bad thing and I don’t think we can be without Ego. Like everything else this is also a tool and we should know how to use it. Like you don’t like being angry but if you see a little kid trying to put his fingers in fire you have to act angry – Ego is a bit like that I believe.

How do you know you have ego problem? Apparently the CEO of one company has very fixed directions on how much cologne his personal steward should apply – now that is definitely an ego problem. To be honest I really don’t know what is that line when it becomes a problem but if we focus on keeping it in balance then we should ok.

What does mean to be in balance then? If something is bothering you then ask yourself is it the Ego in me – do I think I am special enough? Why is something not happening as I want it? All these are in some ways examples of ego. And if some situation in your life is causing you so much pain or suffering that you cannot stop thinking about it- then the best thing to do is to do just the opposite. This is how you will find inner peace. For example if you want your friend to call you because its her turn and now you have spent a week thinking about why she hasn’t called and how great you are etc? Then its about time you give her a call.

The book that I am reading it’s author (Ryan Holiday) says”I hope you will be less invested in the story you tell about your own specialness.” For me that resonated with me deeply and its really hard for me to do. And we all live in a world where the world revolves around us. This whole life is a movie and we are the stars. I am not saying that all of us live our lives with puffed up egos all the time but there are times when admittedly it would make the best sense to not listen to the ego – to lose that argument with a friend even though you know you are right! When you just keep quiet and listen to somebody tell you how much fun they had in London even though you lived in London for years!

This quote sums it all

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!

Long Term – Strategy

In my current role I have to manage a team of people – mostly project managers. And every month we have a strategic meeting and some kind of a fun activity either within ourselves or with other teams we work with. If I chair a meeting it has to be fun at least for me – otherwise why would I have a meeting that I myself don’t want to attend. And at the same time they have to be useful.

Brainstorm Ideas why meeting should be over

What do I in my meetings – in the strategic meeting every month we go over Road-map/NW news/Continuous improvement and about 30% of the meeting is dedicated to watching a movie – a soft skill one, like this time we watched the four agreements summary a) Be impeccable with your word b)Don’t take it personally 3)Don’t make assumptions 4) Do your best.

And for our fun activity we met with the scrum masters in our area and played “What color you are game?” and a trivia about each person.

I never thought about why I do what I do – until one of my team members made a comment that I seem to like these sort of things. It is true – I love the people aspect of it, it is very important for people to know each other as opposed to just coming to work. Whether we realize it not workplace is a social place for us where we spend most of our lives.

But there is another reason why I invest in people. Because in my mind it is the long term strategy. All of us our acutely aware of how hard it is to bring change in ourselves. We also know that unless we change ourselves there is no long term improvement. Changes will happen at the superficial level or will not be full committed too and we revert back to our old ways of working. Otherwise – we would all lose weight by just reading the book, right? So in my mind unless we bring about change in people themselves there is no long term improvement or change.

And I am also aware that I cannot change people but what I can do is create an environment where it is easy for them to be a)aware of the change b)make it easy to adapt to the change. Awareness is a big step in itself.

For example: as a project manager we work with a lot of people and different kinds of people. Not only in rank but also in styles. And as a project manager your maim aim is project delivery. And at the end of the day a project manager is a human being who comes in with her own views too. With all these it is very easy to assume that a team member exists solely to make your life miserable – and when we are so busy with other things this story subconsciously gets embedded in our mind and we start behaving that way. But, if we realize that he is also looking out for the project success we will approach the whole thing differently.

So the key thing is here is not telling the project manager that she should work on her “Stakeholder Management” or “Team Building” skills but shine light on the fact that she may have made an assumption about the team member. And if you know something about that person like they might have the same hobby as with you – you are less likely to make the assumptions.

So this is my long term strategy at work and have fun while you are at it.

Habits – inner change

Let’s say you have a poisonous tree in your backyard – it is infected by some insect which is causing it to be poisonous. The infection is in the roots of the tree. You keep cutting the tree down and telling yourself that the problem is solved. At a superficial level it does look like as if the problem has gone away. But after sometime the tree grows again and the cycle starts again.

Imagine if the cycle kept getting repeated – you are getting frustrated because you have cut down the tree so many times but still it keeps rearing its ugly head. You read a lots of books, you try a lots of pesticides but nothing is working the tree still keeps growing.

I am sure at this point you are thinking – ‘Duh! the infection is in the roots until we treat the roots the problem will not go away’

Guess what this is what we do with ourselves too:
Let’s say you want to lose weight – you go on fad diets, you go on different diets, you stop eating sugar/gluten/dairy, you try exercising but the weight keeps coming back.
Let’s say you want to meditate every day – you listen to meditation tapes, you look for group sits, you look for courses, you manage to sit for an hour for a week, then 30 minutes and then you are back to not meditating.
List is endless – isn’t it and the reason is the same we are not tackling the problem at the root level.

For simplicity and due to my own limited knowledge let’s say there are two kinds of minds – conscious mind which we will call intellect and the unconscious mind which we will call subconscious.

The so-called subconscious mind is not unconscious – in fact it keeps reacting all the time. Reacting to what? Whenever the outside world comes in contact with one of our sense doors (eyes/ears/nose/tongue/skin/mind) then a part of our mind evaluates the sensation and passes judgement [I like it or I don’t like it] and then the subconscious mind reacts accordingly with attachment or aversion. For example, you see a successful person and you have feelings of aversion because your past experiences recall unpleasant sensations when interacting with such people or if you see a cheesecake you desire it because your past experiences recall pleasant sensations on eating it.

At the intellectual level we all know very well – that the problem is not in the successful person or in the cheesecake, it is within me. And you work at the intellectual level and it calms down and it’s good – no doubt about it. It’s good to cut down the tree atleast if you cannot reach the roots yet. But working at the intellectual level does not solve the problem.

We have to bring awareness to our subconscious mind that the sensations are neither pleasant or unpleasant – it’s only judgement that is passed when we have a contact at our sense doors. And another aspect of it that the sensations are temporary – the desire to eat cheesecake is not eternal, it comes and goes.

Vipassana Meditation teaches us how to get to the root level and work at that level bringing profound and long lasting changes. I am very grateful to Buddha who discovered the technique, Webu Saydaw-U Ba Kin for continuing it and Goenka ji to bringing it to India.

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.

Where you are.

As some of you know I have started learning swimming. I can swim now – except the breathing part. I still use a swimming snorkel but I am more comfortable in water and have more stamina. When I first started off I couldn’t even take 2 strokes and I was swimming next to little kids who could do laps. Let’s say instead of practicing I just stood their thinking about a) how good the kids are b) how I will never learn swimming – then I am actually just failing behind in my aim to swim. But that space where your mind spins stories is so enticing or rather so conditioned that we actually love to wallow in that space. We refuse to see where we are. Yes, whether you like it or not you make a choice to dwell and not take the next step.

This is why sometimes it feels as if we are stuck in a pattern and are not able to get out of it or any situation we get into it always comes down to the same thing. In fact, in some cases the stories we spin in our heads to avoid facing “where we are” has so many layers that we are light years from reality.Like in the swimming example if I start extrapolating it to the rest of the world and say everybody else can learn swimming, they can have a better life but look at me I cannot even swim – then this is further taking me away from the core – which is kick and move your hands in water.

It’s like the quote from Einstein

You have to be able to peel back the layers of onion, get rid of the baggage and see the reality as it is. And take an action – even a small step towards your goal counts. If I decide to just swim to the middle of the pool and just do it even if it means I stop after every stroke. It is a mixture of lot of things – will power, your desire (true desire) to get to the goal, your past experiences all contribute to it. But it doesn’t matter because you can only start from where you are. There is absolutely no point in comparing yourself to others or where they are – it’s a waste of energy and time. Another quote from Einstein here

Ramana Maharishi also said that the world will be a much better place if everybody minded their own business.If these thoughts did not exist then I would just swim – there is nothing stopping me from swimming.

We have to accept the fact that our past deeds in this lifetime or past lifetimes have created the circumstances in which we find ourselves today but the response to this situation is in our hands. We have to see the reality as it is, accept where we are and move from there. It’s not easy but hey this is life, this is you.

Vipassana in Pali literally means “to see things as they are”.