Tag Archives: Meditation

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.

Space you come from

My parents were visiting me in London while I was working for British Telecom. It was around that time when I had told my parents that Adam and I wanted to get married. We were discussing the details and we had an disagreement. I remember my mom walked off and I was so angry that I was pacing back and forth in the living room in St.Johnswood flat. I was talking non-stop and what I remember is that my dad just stayed there quietly holding the space. He didn’t say anything but it was very obvious to me that he knew that I was going through a phase and that’s not who I am. And I remember being aware of it so clearly and I calmed down.

The space where my dad was coming from was the key here – he didn’t say anything but it was very clear to me that he knew that angry person was not me and it was a phase. There have been many other instances where my dad has just listened to me and not been judgemental about anything. He never told me what to do (mostly) and maybe that’s why I would tell him everything and value is opinion a little bit more than others.

The space you come from can have an profound impact. And its very hard as it feels as if you are not doing anything. One of the hardest things to do is to watch the ones you care about make mistakes and knowing that all you can do is to be there to support them – they have to go through that path for them to grow. It is hard not jumping in and telling them to stop.You can try but it won’t stop them from doing it in fact they might move away from you. In fact you might even slow down their path to growth.

In order for you to be holding the space you need to be in a position where you are not thinking about yourself because if you do then the space becomes polluted – its hard as we are all selfish at out core. The difference here is that the selfishness goes beyond just the I – the other person is included in your I. It is also grounded in the belief that we are all one at the core and all this dramas that we have are just passing phases for some these phases last really long,for some they last only an instant and for some they don’t exist.

It’s like we are all part of the ocean but when we become waves we forget that we are part of the ocean. It’s the recognition that we are all one – there is no difference.

So, lots of themes in this blog
1. Space you are coming from.
2. Reserving judgement on others as you know this is just a phase
3. We are one at the core where we are beyond all the dramas we create.

Being Different – concept of Who Am I?

I remember when I moved to Columbus from London – it was an identity crisis of sorts. The first step was to recognize that my identity was tied to working as a Project Manager in British Telecom and having a MBA degree from London Business School. I identified myself with these two things without even realizing it in London. When I moved to Columbus nobody even knew British Telecom or London Business School – I even had somebody ask me what does an MBA stand for. That was the first time I realized that unknowingly I had created an identity for myself and was attached to it. And looking back I can see that it had taken me some effort to build my identity in London so it wasn’t easy to let it go. And let it go for what?

Moving to Columbus gave me the fresh start as I wasn’t encumbered by preconceived notions of what people thought about me. Let’s ignore the fact that the preconceived notions are in my head to begin with. Fresh Start – eh! that didn’t last long though.

I was driving back from work one day and my thoughts wandered to how I am different and have always been different. For example, I am a South Indian but I grew up in North – so really I didn’t fit in either places. [South India as different from North India like UK and Spain]. And then I joined the software engineering which at that time was still very much Male-centric world. And when I moved to US – again I was different, same in UK [Although London feels like home as everybody is from outside] And then I married someone out of my caste , first one from my community to go do an MBA,list continues…

The point being that this is the only life I know and hence I identify myself as being different. In fact, I would probably feel threatened if I was the same as others.

How am I different now? We (Adam and I) don’t drink. We don’t watch TV – we don’t even have cable. We do Meditation and Yoga. We love talking about well-being, self and being on the Journey. We don’t seem to be driven by materialistic desires as much. The usual small talk isn’t for us.

Then the question is – so is this better? Is this good that I am different and differ in the way stated above?
The short answer to that is NO. It doesn’t matter what identity I have – the key is to be aware that I have an identity. In the human predicament we have to play the role(s). The key is to know that you are playing a role and the role is not you. And we cannot get away from playing the roles as long as we are in the human predicament. We might as well as enjoy playing different roles and play them with gusto.

A role might be this perfect do-gooder who can do no wrong. Another role can be of a inspirational leader at office. Another role might be somebody is who is victim to everything that happens to them. Another role might be of a drug-addict. Another might be of a politician or in some cases even an enlightened Guru.

In essence it really doesn’t matter who we are – we are all one whether we truly realize it or not is a different question.

Viriya – Effort

This blog follows the last one where I talk about the different ways in which we can accept or not accept other’s judgements/opinions.

In this blog I am going to talk about how to increase the “effort” factor in implementing the different ways. Before we get started let me explain what I mean by “effort – viriya”. If you recall in one of my blogs I talk about the Ten Perfections (Paramis)

Viriya: Energy
May I be energetic, vigorous and persevering.
May I strive diligently until I achieve my goal.
May I be fearless in facing dangers and courageously surmount all obstacles.
May I be able to serve others to the best of my ability.

Viriya in simple terms means Energy, that’s it. Pure and simple energy. Every time somebody tries to impose/project their own imperfections/shortcomings onto you, you need effort to not accept those gifts. You can always apply more effort until you reach the final stage.

There are many ways to work on developing Viriya. First of all you can do it anytime – literally anytime. Let’s say you are driving to work and your mind is busy as usual passing opinions. Every time you bring your awareness to sensations to breathing instead of the opinions you are increasing the effort factor – every little bit counts. Imagine how easy it is to do this. And every time you do this your effort factor increases.

Secondly, every time you interact with someone and they are gossiping or doing unwholesome deeds (to the extent you can determine this) then observe your sensations – re-double your efforts.

Thirdly, you can always use physical activity to train your mind – this might be helpful in the beginning stages. For example, if you run or if you swim then do that extra 5 minutes or the extra lap. Every time you do this you are working on the muscle.

This is a little different from will power because the desire to increase the effort has to come from within. Until then try to light the flame of effort. Once it’s lit then it will be hard to put out.

And another thing to keep in mind is that what matter is the right kind of effort – which in Vipassana means being aware of your sensations in everything that you do. If you are sitting/standing/sleeping or as you go about your daily activities be aware of sensations. These has the double advantage of a) working on your effort/sensations b) mindfulness in your day-today work.

A big part of this practice is to know whether you are tuned up or not. And this comes by practice. Let’s say there are a few drops of water on table and you use a cloth and it absorbs all the water. Let’s say there is a glass of water and you use the same cloth to soak it all up – it won’t work. It is s continuous cycle as your cloth grows the more water you can absorb. The more water you can absorb the more the cloth will grow until there is no water/cloth.

Similarly the effort factor will increase every time you use it, the more you use it the more effort factor will be until there is just you.

To Accept Or Not Accept

In the 10-day Vipassana courses Goenkaji tells us some stories during the discourses. The one below is similar to the one Goenkaji narrates during the course.

There once lived a great warrior. Though quite old, he still was able to defeat any challenger. His reputation extended far and wide throughout the land and many students gathered to study under him.

One day an infamous young warrior arrived at the village. He was determined to be the first man to defeat the great master. Along with his strength, he had an uncanny ability to spot and exploit any weakness in an opponent. He would wait for his opponent to make the first move, thus revealing a weakness, and then would strike with merciless force and lightning speed. No one had ever lasted with him in a match beyond the first move.

Much against the advice of his concerned students, the old master gladly accepted the young warrior’s challenge. As the two squared off for battle, the young warrior began to hurl insults at the old master. He threw dirt and spit in his face. For hours he verbally assaulted him with every curse and insult known to mankind. But the old warrior merely stood there motionless and calm. Finally, the young warrior exhausted himself. Knowing he was defeated, he left feeling shamed.

Somewhat disappointed that he did not fight the insolent youth, the students gathered around the old master and questioned him. “How could you endure such an indignity? How did you drive him away?”

“If someone comes to give you a gift and you do not receive it,” the master replied, “to whom does the gift belong?”

Now how does this apply to us? There are two aspects to this – one who is giving you the gift and the one is accepting the gift.

ONE GIVING THE GIFT: We are all making judgements – a part of human conditioning. Some people might think you are kind, some people might think you are rude, some might think you are beautiful and some might think you are ugly. All these opinions are correct – from the perspective of the people who are passing these judgements. These opinions and judgements are a reflection of themselves really! This is why they say that world is a mirror.

ONE ACCEPTING THE GIFT: We have a choice as to whether accept the gift or not. But most of the time we don’t even know we have accepted the gift. What does accepting the gift mean? Let’s say somebody says you are ugly – what do you do? Do you just listen to what’s being said and let is pass like moving clouds [Then you have not accepted the gift]. Or do you think about what the other person said , ruminate about it for hours and want to get back at the person or the world, do you want to shout at the top of your voice and let everybody know that you are not ugly [Then you have accepted the gift].

Want to know how not to accept the gift? Watch out for my next blog post.

Bollywood, Movies – Illusion

As some of you might know I run a small business on the side which is teaching Bollywood Dance. As a part of that I got contacted by Bollywood Musical Company Taj Express asking if I wanted to partner with them.

It was on a Tuesday night at 8:00 pm and Friday before that we had another Bollywood Dance Party (A great one by the way – they are having another one in May too, if you are interested) and that was a late night affair. It started around 9:30 pm and went on until the wee hours in the morning.

We sleep around 9:00 pm ish – as we were leaving the house at 8:00pm my iPhone gave me a reminder “Go to bed at 9:00 pm to get 8 hours of sleep”. If you are thinking why I am telling you all these details – its because I am trying to say that our sleeping cycle was already disturbed and we go to bed pretty early. So I wasn’t sure if really wanted to go to this event or not.

Anyways the partnership they wanted was for me to advertise their show and I said yes. Sow what you reap – I am very selfish that way. So they sent me this packet containing flyers/posters and two complimentary tickets. We decided we were going.

I didn’t have a lot of expectations going in – it was 75 percent full which was a good turnout. And then the show started. Foot Tapping music, lovely costumes and dance moves that made you move in your seat. We had done quite a few of the songs in our dance class as well. And at intermission there was an significant increase in my energy levels and that was reflected in the crowd as well. People were smiling at each other as if we are all a part of a big secret event. It got me enthused for sure. And the joy-ride continued with full steam ahead for the rest of the show and by the end of it I did not want it to end. I secretly wanted to get on the stage and dance with them.

Here’s a link to a latest Bollywood Movie Song – Watch it NOW, its only 2 minutes. I am sure you were also excited – there definitely has been some upward movement in the energy levels.

The reason I love Bollywood is – a) I am an Indian b)it a part of my job requirement c) it’s entertaining d) it takes me out of my daily life and lets me be immersed in something which is so fantastical that for those few moments nothing else exists. This is probably true for any activity that we truly enjoy like reading a book, meditating or doing yoga.

However, it as during the show I thought that there might something else going on here too – it might be deeper than just the energy rush that we get. Life is an illusion and maybe when we go to these movies we get a little more closer to realizing that we are watching a movie within the movie which we call Life.

And if that was too complex – check this out

Mind Over Matter – how much can you stretch?

It was summertime and I remember very vividly that my dad who is usually very fit kept sleeping for an entire weekend – non-stop. He had just made a trip to Delhi or some other city for business and when he came back all he did was sleep. His clothes had a slightly yellowish tinge – anyways they did go to the doctor. Doctor did a few tests and told him that he had jaundice but it’s on the decline now. The worst was over. So his Jaundice was at the peak during his business trip but it didn’t affect him at all.

If you are wondering why I am telling you this incident then here it is – Mind Over Matter. I believe that my Dad is one of the few people I know who are very good at mind over matter. What does it really mean?

In my dad’s case he willed his body to believe that it was all good – one can argue that he slept the whole weekend but you get the point. Basically what this is saying is that your body can withstand anything it’s your mind that you have to convince. There are scientific studies which prove this as well – let’s say you flip a coin 20 times what are the chances of heads/tails – 50% right? However, there was an experiment done where they had participants who willed a certain outcome like either heads and tails and the probability was not 50%. Check out this article for more details. If it could be done for coin flip experiment – imagine what we could all do if we ALL set our minds to it. Another famous example is the DC crime rate which started dropping when a meditation project was started and then started increasing when the project was disbanded – read about it here.

Our faith can move mountains. All we have to do is to believe.

The question is – If there is so much evidence that meditation/focusing your mind on an object is so powerful then how come most of the people don’t do it? Why is that each and every one of is not drawn to meditation?
The only answer that I can come up with is – when the student is ready , teacher will be ready otherwise even if you read about it, even if you see it, you are still blocked to it – you will not see it really. But it doesn’t mean we don’t try.

And then there’s a flip side to it too – you can only push yourself so much. It’s like different rubber bands can be stretched only to certain points before they break – so you have to find out your breaking point and work on it to increase its elasticity if you are so interested and called to do so!

It also comes back to my favorite quote – its all in me – all in the mind. Everything that happens to us, including the angry boss, difficult stakeholders, great pets, lovely spouses is all within our mind even the so called external circumstances like political situation/global warming all of them – they are all creations of our mind and most of us are ignorant of what our minds are creating.

But nobody said it better than the Mysore style Ashtanga teacher Pattabhi Jois – it’s true even in yoga.

We are all in Prison

Raymond Fiest, one of my favorite fantasy authors writes in his book, “The Magician”

we are the architect of our own prison

What does he mean by that? Let me tell you a story.

A rich couple are blessed with a baby boy after several years of marriage. They bring the boy up and groom him to be a business man so that he can take over his dad’s business. Twenty five years of father’s life have gone in building the dream that his son will carry on his legacy. You can imagine the dismay when his son announces that he wants to be a farmer and not a business man like his father. The father tells his son, “You have made me very unhappy.”

QUESTION: How many of you think he is right? That the son is responsible for his father’s unhappiness.

Here’s a tip: All that the son did was tell his father that he was going to be a farmer. The father had the choice to be happy or unhappy. And he made the choice to be unhappy. That was the prison he created for himself. He not only made himself unhappy but refused to take ownership for that as well.

Imagine how many times in our life we refuse to take the ownership of our own choices. In fact some of us live under the delusion that the external circumstances have made our life miserable and not us. We are not even aware of our own choice.

For example, I remember telling my dad that I was probably going to hate Columbus after London. And my dad in his practical fashion, responded, “You can hate Columbus all you want, Columbus doesn’t care.”

You don’t get the promotion you want, your spouse divorces you or your kids take to marijuana or somebody you don’t like became the head of your office/country – you make a choice to be happy or unhappy.

It’s ok to make either choice – even if you decide to be unhappy about it – do it knowing that it’s your choice nobody’s making you unhappy. Own the decision. That’s the first step – it’s harder to accept the decision as the best thing that can ever happen to you though. Difficult but not impossible – practice does make everything perfect.

Let’s take the prison theory to next level. This gets a little into the spiritual realm more so than usual. Even when we own our choice or decide to be happy about it all that we are doing is getting better food – in the prison. In the human predicament we are all already in the prison we are just moving to a better one. It is very hard to explain such things in words because words are not enough.

My favorite quote comes to mind,

“In this plane there is no answer and outside the plane there is nobody to ask the question.”

However, in his book UnTethered Soul, Michael singer provides a great description of what I am trying to say. Imagine space/vaccuum in which things are floating like Cars/your ideal job/ your partner/ your savings account etc. The minute your mind focuses on the car , it becomes a block and many such blocks build the prison. It’s all an illusion but we have forgotten that we are actors and are convinced that this is the reality.

How do we get out of the prison? All paths lead to Rome. If this article has planted a seed in you then nurture it, watch for it – if you are drawn towards painting/writing/aerobics or something that you always wanted to do as a kid. Go for it, it might open the door that may be your path out of the prison. For those of us who meditate or do yoga – when we breathe or we are focused on sensations at that moment there is no thought – in that moment we are free
.

I Don’t Drink

I was telling a colleague about my Belize trip and I mentioned about the delicious virgin mango-coladas. And his question was “How come you don’t drink?” I thought it would make for a good blog post. Here we go.

Growing up in India in 80s and 90s in a middle class family, I just assumed that Alcohol and Smoking were bad. End of story – no questions asked. And drinking is not a common part of a daily life in India.

Alcohol and me did not cross paths until I started working in Patni Computer Systems. We had a big release. I was the youngest girl on the software team. My team along with tech lead decided to go out and celebrate with drinks. As they packed up early I told them I wanted to join too. My tech lead who probably thought of me as a kid told me, “No, you run home – this will be really late thing.”.

On the bus ride home I decided I was going to go drink as well that day. So I reach home, wait for my dad to come and tell him that I want to drink. And to my dad’s credit he didn’t even blink. He said, “Ok, let’s go out for dinner and we can drink.” My mom was horrified and I remember her telling my dad, “You are going to drink with your kids.” My dad replied, “Well, its good that they are drinking with us and not with strangers.”

We went to Copper Chimney in Bombay [now Mumbai] and my dad ordered a Bacardi Breezer and my brother not be left behind saw his chance and said, “I want one too.” He got one too. I had a sip and it tasted terrible. It wasn’t sweet or fruity. With all the hype around drinking I was expecting it to taste better than my favorite mango drink Frooti or Maaza. I left it as it is. My brother gulped it down though.

My dad told me, “if you don’t like the taste of Bacardi Breezer then there is very little chance that you will like the other alcoholic drinks.” Honestly, that did it for me. When other people talked about alcohol I didn’t care much.

It was in Phoenix that I changed my view – “Anybody who drinks alcohol is bad” to “People who drink alcohol are normal people,” as almost everybody drank in US.

Fast forward to London Business School in UK. If you know anything about UK the drinking culture is very popular there. There is a pub at every street. And MBA graduates are not going to be left behind so they had these pub crawls and they are a big part of the social life in B-school. I joined a couple in the beginning and saw my friends getting drunk to the point where they would end up puking. Now, that did not interest me at all. I didn’t like the smell of beer which was pretty pervasive in London Pubs and that time smoking wasn’t banned in public places as well. I hated the smell of smoke on my clothes and it would never come off. Hence, I made a socially limiting move to not go out drinking – it reduced my social circle and networking a lot but there was no way I was going to drink smelly beer and smell like smoke.

I would still go to a few events and end up drinking coke or lemonade – not bad at all. After a few drinks others are too drunk to even notice what you are drinking.

And now I do Vipassana and one of the precepts is that you do not have intoxicants – so that sealed it for me.

I hope you all enjoyed this little walk down one of my memory lanes.

Vipassana – Meditation Musings

I just got back from serving at a 10-day Vipassana Meditation Retreat. Vipassana means to “See things as they are” and it’s one of the many ways to reach enlightenment or at least get started on the journey. It was bought to India by S.N.Goenka to whom I am very grateful.

gji-sittingbw

There are lots of things that come to mind when I think about Vipassana but today I am going to talk about Paramis. Paramis are ten qualities which when attained completely result in enlightenment. At this point I want to clarify that I am not enlightened [Ehrm! obviously] hence cannot guarantee as I don’t have the personal experience but regardless of the final goal these are good qualities to have.

What are these Paramis then?

1. Dana: Generosity
May I be generous and helpful

2. Sila: Morality
May I be well-disciplined and refined in manners.
May I be pure and clean in all my dealings.
May my thoughts, words and deeds be pure.

3. Nekkhama: Renunciation
May I not be selfish and self-possessive, but selfless and disinterested.
May I be able to sacrifice my pleasure for the sake of others.

4. Panna: Wisdom
May I be wise and able to see things as they truly are.
May I see the light of truth and lead others from darkness to light.
May I be enlightened and be able to enlighten others.

5. Viriya: Energy
May I be energetic, vigorous and persevering.
May I strive diligently until I achieve my goal.
May I be fearless in facing dangers and courageously surmount all obstacles.
May I be able to serve others to the best of my ability.

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.

7. Sacca: Truthfulness
May I ever be truthful and honest.
May I not swerve from the path of truth.

8. Adhitthana: Determination
May I be firm and resolute and have an iron will.
May I be soft as a flower and firm as a rock.
May I ever be high-principled.

9. Metta: Loving Kindness
May I ever be kind, friendly and compassionate.
May I be able to regard all as my brothers and sisters and be and be one with all.

10. Upekkha: Equanimity
May I ever be calm, serene, unruffled and peaceful.
May I gain a balanced mind.
May I have perfect equanimity

How do I use them? Let’s take an example: I am at work and in a conversation with this person who just wants to talk and talk and talk. And I have only one thing to say and there are still 25 minutes left in the meeting – instead of getting annoyed I practice Khanti -patience [whenever I remember] and focus on my breath. This is one small way of looking at issues in your life and turning them around for your own personal growth.

Imagine these to be Ten Jars and size of the Jars vary depending on your previous Karmas – and if we put in one pebble/coin in one Jar everyday it definitely makes us a better human being and who knows might take us to enlightenment too!

May all beings be Happy!