Tag Archives: #mindfulness

Have You Experienced Time Yet?

  

We might all think we run our lives – and we are all wrong. Time runs this entire world. The little watches we have on our wrists, calendars on the walls, or our electronic devices rule the world. From the time we wake up to the alarm to the time we go to bed – all we do is run around the clock.

It is almost ten. Is breakfast ready yet?
I have a meeting in ten minutes – can we do this later?
I have to get this done now.
I wish I had more hours in the day?
Where does the time go?

Sounds familiar! We live in a mad world where the human-made concept of time shackles us all. Nature does not live on a timetable, and neither do the planets and sun. I understand that we need to have some concept of time to live in a civilized fashion. But like all things, we have become slaves to time.

Given that time has such significant importance in our lives, one would think that we have experienced time, right? But, have we – experienced time? The past and the future that we talk about are just thoughts that occur in our mind, but not something we know as real—the closest thing to time that we do experience is this moment – NOW. We may plan for the future or repent our past – the only place where we can live and do something is this moment. However, we all live everywhere except in the present – and we wonder why we are not happy?

Imagine you need to get a loaf a bread. You get into the car so that you can get a loaf of bread. You go to the grocery store so that you can get that loaf of bread. You stand in the line so that you can get the loaf of bread. And finally, you get home and eat that loaf of bread so that you can get on with the next thing. And you never even taste that loaf of bread.

Can you see why life is unfulfilling because we never live? We treat this moment as a means to something else. We are conditioning our mind to ‘Live’ in the future or the past but never NOW.

Since we treat every moment as a means to do something that we are never living, no wonder we all go through life feeling something is missing. So, what do we do? First is the awareness that there are two dimensions to living – vertical and horizontal. The purpose of washing dishes is to wash dishes and not to clean them. The primary goal is to wash dishes, and the secondary is to clean them.

In summary, it means doing one thing at a time without thinking about the result and the next item after that. Even if you do, it is secondary – what matters is how mindful you are of what you are doing now.

As you read this article, are you aware of the letters flashing in front of your eyes, or is this article stopping you from getting on with the next moment – which will happen in the NOW?

What Matters Most?

When you read a book, do you wonder about the blank spaces around the words? Do you wonder about the blank pages on which the letters appear?

When you enter a room, do you think about the space in the room? When you use the furniture, do you think about the space in which it exists?

When you watch a film, are you aware of the screen on which it is playing? When you see the actors in the movie, do you realize that they are people?

Let’s bring it all home with a story. One of my friends got laid off from a toxic job and not the best fit for her. She was miserable in that role working long hours in a thankless role. When she told the news to her parents and in-laws, their reaction was, ‘Wow, that is amazing!’ and ‘Good riddance – such great news!’. My friend is a little upset about it even though she knows its the best direction for her.

Her parents and in-laws are happy because they care about my friend, not her life situation. They care about what matters most – the person behind the job, the blank space behind the words, the person playing the role.

Think about how much of our life we spend thinking about our life situation and not life itself. There is nothing wrong in thinking about a life situation, but we have to keep life in perspective. As a human society, we have become so life-situation centric that the real meaning of life is non-existent.

Why is the space in which it all exists so essential? Because it is the only constant – life situations will come and go. The little or big Me (ego) will grow bigger and then deflate itself. The entity we call ‘I’ will play many parts or actors in various plays. If we remember the space/entity, we will not identify ourselves with the actor or the life situation. That gives us breathing space to choose – to be aware that its all a play and we are all actors. It is not the essence of who we are.

If you knew that the life situation playing currently in your head where EGO is the main actor – ‘I am so busy’, ‘I will never get the promotion’, ‘COVID has ruined our lives’, is just that – plays, then will you be unhappy? We will play the role with gusto, knowing that it’s not who we are.

How do we keep in touch with space, person, and not identify with roles or thoughts? An easy way is to be in your body – if you are walking your dog, but your mind is thinking about work, what is real and what is fantasy? It is ok to think about the future or past as long as it is practical. Another way is to keep reminding yourself – ‘Is this a problem that is happening right now?’

Will you be aware of the blank pages or space next time? What about now?

Lost In Russian Dolls?

Have you ever seen a new-born baby? For the first six months or so they have no idea of who they are, they are not aware of their legs and arms. One of my nieces used to pull her hair as a baby and start crying – unable to tear her hand and stop the pain.

Babies live in the NOW – there is no concept of past/future or self/I. They do have minimal basic desires and wants like milk/sleep/food. They have no great desires or plans – a baby does not think when I drink milk twenty-four times a day I will become a millionaire or other ridiculous cravings/aversions that we tend to get as we grow up. For the baby, there is nothing except the present moment.

As we grow up, we get to know the mind-based concept of time. And with time comes the need to get somewhere, the desire to meet our plans or the aversion towards something happening. And we leave the present moment and start to live in the future and past. The conditioning becomes stronger.

Another thing that happens as we grow up is our sense of ME. We start creating a picture of who we are, what people should think about of me, what society should think of me? And we go about making that image to our liking. A baby does not think – my dad should think of me as pretty or my brother should look up to me. When we grow up this self-image becomes so ingrained that we are not even aware of it.

The society, media and other factors are all egging us to live in the future/past or create an ‘Ideal self-image’. The TV ad that tells you that if you use their aftershave lotion, you will find love, the news piece about a spiritual coach, the interview with an actor/actress with a so-called perfect body.

Nowhere people tell you that the practically impossible to live in the future or the past. My body is right now sitting on a couch, typing these words in the keypad. I can’t skip to the next weekend – but my mind starts thinking about the following weekend, and I have lost touch with reality. I can think about it all I want – the weekend will get here when it is NOW.

We/our minds keep jumping away from the present moment all the time – into past or future or dreamland. There is nothing wrong with planning. We do not stop at planning; we derive a sense of self from something happening or not happening in the future, which becomes futile.

Like the nested Russian dolls, we have lost sense of who we are or where we are. There is so much depth to the present moment that we never explore because we are so busy looking at the outer covers – its paints, designs. A big part of understanding the depth is the acknowledgement of the inevitable is-ness of the present moment.

Where are you right now?

Plain Old Living

I just watched the latest Pixar animation movie – ‘Soul’. It is a must-see even though not at the same level as their other movie – ‘Inside Out’. Before we get into the actual blog a word about the creation process for these movies. Pixar movies generally speaking come from a very different place. If you ever watch a Pixar movie and read some of the spiritual books like, ‘Untethered Soul’ or ‘The power of now’ – you will see some overlap. For a movie to reach that depth level, the creation has to flow through you and not forced. The creation process happens through the presence and not ego, which is a feat in itself. Hats off to that creation!

In the movie, there is a dialogue where a little kid is asking about his/her purpose. The kid says, ‘Maybe walking is my purpose; I am very good at walking or even watching the sky.’ And the other person replies, ‘Well, that cannot be your purpose, it’s just plain old living.’

We have reduced the majority of our life into a Plain Old Boring Job. What do most humans do in their daily lives – sleep, eat, walk, talk, watch – right? And even if you have a purpose – most of that also includes – walking, talking.

Now – we have two options. First – not do everyday things like walking, talking, eating etc. – but then how will you live your life? Second – Remove these activities from the boring list – but these are boring!

There is a Zen saying – ‘Chop Wood and Carry Water’. It essentially means that it does not matter if you have chopped wood and carried water for the last twenty-five years. It is new every time you do it because it is NOW. Our mind/ego finds it boring – I have carried water for so long, it is hard work. Why do I have to carry water? It is so dull. Do I have to carry it forever? Why cannot somebody else bring water?

Our minds live in the past and present – which is practically impossible. We hardly live IN the PRESENT moment, which is the only place you can exist. If we could start living in the now without living in the mind-created world, our lives would become so much more straightforward. And then chopping wood and carrying water will be more enjoyable.

Another example is walking – we have made walking a means to an end. You want to get somewhere, a meeting, home so that you can do something else. How many times have we walked without really walking but running through the todo list in our mind? All it does is – it uses up energy from the actual doing of the todo list, so when the time comes to do the tasks you are exhausted.

You have thought about carrying water and chopping wood so much that when it comes to doing it – you are exhausted! Are you carrying water and chopping wood or thinking about it?

Grim Reaper

Make Your Life Easy, and You Can Do It are two of the books that I have authored. And they both start with the chapter on Suffering. My preference was to begin them with Grim Reaper, but my husband managed to convince me that it might be too morbid for the general audience.

The reason I started the book with Suffering is to highlight the impermanence of our lives. Each of our lives is like a book with a definite ending of Death. The only thing that is guaranteed in our lives is that we will die – we do not know when. For some reason, this truth has become a taboo. In some cultures, it is a common practice to put makeup on dead bodies to lessen the effect of Death. Why is Death such a secretive phrase when it is so common – I will never understand, but I have accepted that Death makes people uncomfortable.

As long as I can remember, Death has never been a touchy subject for me – I can talk about it in the same breath as cheesecake. One of the questions that I always ask myself is, ‘What if I was to die now?’ And the answer to that question helps me live fully. The unfulfilled desires, ambitions, dreams all are suddenly put in perspective. As some say – you have to master the art of dying so that you can master the art of living.

I am even contemplating putting this question at my office desk. Are some of you wondering why I want to stare at this so-called morbid question all day long? Let me give you a couple of examples. A colleague comes into my office and tells me that they haven’t done something that they should have done. And I remember giving precise instructions on how important it was. I get annoyed, and then I glance on the question, ‘Am I ready to die now?’ and it helps me realize that in the big scheme of things – this situation will also pass. The result is – I probably deliver the same message with compassion instead of anger.

Another example: Ruby has wanted to be an athlete since she was a kid. Her entire life revolves around her exercise routine, competitions. She wins some matches, and she loses some. And it so happens that she has an accident and is confined to a wheelchair. If she asked herself, ‘What if she was to die now?’ then maybe it might be easier for her to accept the reality as it is and move to gratitude.

I am in no way suggesting that we do not complain or give up our goals or never say anything harsh. All I am saying is that keep life in perspective because Death is the only constant. And the constant reminder of Death will eventually make us more compassionate and more alive. If we knew we were going to die then would we still be annoyed with our friend over something that happened eight years ago? Would we still hold a grudge against a family member who ignored us at a party?

What is your relationship with Death?

Glued To Your Seat

Imagine you are in a theatre watching a string of movies. The movies and the actors cater to all the emotions you can think of – fear, sex, violence, love, family, patriotism, terrorism, heist – the whole gamut of life as we know it.

Let’s say that the movies are so fascinating that you identify yourself with the actor in the film. And the identification is so strong that you have forgotten who you are. Let’s say that the actor in the movie is a hotshot playboy and now you are the playboy, and you feel everything that he feels in the film. Or, Let’s say the actor now is a CEO who has gone from rags to the riches. Or, the actor is worried about how he/she is going to feed her kids in the future. Or, the actor’s friend betrayed him and he is possessed by revenge. Or, the actor’s family does not get along, and she is upset.

The list is endless, and you go through each of these emotions with so much conviction that you have no recollection of you sitting in the leather seat with popcorn and soda. For brief instances of time, you realize that you are the watcher, not the actor but then the pull of the movies is so strong that you lose yourself over and over again. You are confused to the point that you have trouble understanding who is real – the person sitting in the chair or the actor on the screen.

How can you find out who you are? By touching the chair, you are sitting on – by feeling the popcorn that you are eating. By being grounded in the physical act of sitting, you can be sure that you are the person watching the movie and not the actor. If you are ever confused if you are the actor or audience feel your feet or hands and you will be back to the ‘real’ reality.

If you are identified with the actor, you are not enjoying the movie, but you are suffering through everything that the actor goes through on the screen. If you are grounded as the watcher, then you enjoy it thoroughly for what it is.

All of us do this every moment of our lives. We lose ourselves in some actor in the movie we makeup, and we forget we are the audience. And in that, we suffer because we lose touch with the reality of the moment and start suffering or enjoying whatever the person in our mind made movie is doing. And the way out of this is to be present in NOW.

Why is it so important to live in the NOW? Because it is the only place you can live – the rest is all in your head. You can worry about the future or replay the past – BUT the only action that can take place is in the NOW. Sure the past and future can guide you but if they consume you that you do not have the energy to live in the NOW.

Are you glued to your seat or are you lost in the screen?

Who Are You?

Imagine you have gone to watch a fantastic play in a lovely theatre. The actors are supposed to be so good that it’s almost life-like. It is a very engaging drama with all the trials and tribulations of human life that we all go through in our real lives.

Now, let’s suppose that the drama is so real that you completely lose yourself in it – especially in one of the characters. You identify with her 100%. You are upset because you (she) cannot get the love of her life. You try with might and vain to solve your (her) legal problems, and you fail. You weep when your (her) close friend dies. In short, you have become the character. And let’s say now you watch the drama all the time because you have become the character and you replay the same drama over and over. In the end, you forget who you are, and you carry out the same character even when the drama ends.

What would you call that? Silly, Stupid, Crazy. Now, what if I told you that we are all like that. We are the actor and the audience. But we have forgotten that we are all the audience of our life where the actor in us plays different dramas.

I was cleaning my room a few weeks ago and came across some of my old diaries. And I quickly glanced through them – it was scary and eye-opening in some ways. I quickly realized that there is always some drama in my life – love, exams, career, parents, family… The story might change, but the drama is constant. And I play the part of the actor with gusto – I weep, rejoice, cry my eyes out for weeks, go on a diet, meditate. I forget that I am also the observer of my own life – because I get caught up in the acting so much.

Why is this important? If I am identified with the actor, then life will be very challenging or as Buddha said – it will be suffering. Because I am suffering whatever the actor goes through. If I remember that I am the audience, then I will applaud the great performances and move on. I will make better decisions in my real-life if I remain rooted as an audience and not be carried away by the whims and fancies of the actor I am portraying right now.

Imagine a Jar which we are filling with sand/stones and other items. What matters is the space in the jar, which allows things to rise, not what we fill the space with. It is the same with our lives – we have to remember that we are the screen on which the various dramas arise and pass away, but the screen remains constant. If we are rooted in this truth and connected with the screen all the time – life would be a breeze, and we will enjoy it like a play.

Who are you, the actor or the audience or the screen?

The road ahead, not the turn

I recently saw the movie, ‘Stand and Deliver’ based on the real-life story of Jamie Escalante, a math professor. He is famous for teaching calculus to high school students in Garfield High School in East LA. Most of the students are of Hispanic origins who passed the test.

There are a couple of scenes that stood out to me from the movie.

SCENE 1: One of his students wants to quit because his uncle has offered him a job fork lifting and paying him time and a half. And within a year he can have a car of his own.
Jamie takes him a car ride, and as they reach a crossroad, he asks him urgently, ‘Left or Right’. The student in a hurry says, ‘Left, Left.’ and they end up in a dead-end.
Jamie says, ‘Look at the road ahead and not at the turn.’

SCENE 2: One of the students asks Jamie, ‘Are you nervous that we will screw up the test royally, tomorrow?’ Jamie replies, ‘Tomorrow is just a day, honey. I am worried that you will screw your lives.’

Both these scenes stood out of to me because it is evident that Jamie is thinking ahead. He is looking at the road and not the turn.

How many times have we thought of the turn ahead but not the destination – and ended up in a dead-end? How many times have we made a decision because it brings us momentary or short term gains at the expense of long term benefits? Settled for a partner because of social pressure even if it was not the right match. Gone for a job because of prestige even though it was not what you wanted. Went on a fad diet to lose weight only to put it all back.

People will tell you, ‘Marriage is all about compromise.’ or ‘You can do any job for two years.’ And it is tempting, really tempting because at the moment all you want is that desire to be fulfilled. But remember, ‘He who laughs last, laughs the best.’ These are times when you need to anchor to your values. Do you want to spend your life with somebody who is not the best match for you? Do you want to go to work every day knowing this is not the job you wanted?

Another big question, ‘How do I make the decision?’ The most common and annoying answer to that is, ‘Trust your gut.’ But, by the time you get to your gut, you are no longer able to sense it forget about trusting it. Or, sometimes you can hear what your gut is saying, but you do not want to listen. What do you do in these situations?

There is no right or wrong. In the end, the universe always has your back and will get you where you need to be. How you get there might be painful or comfortable, depending on the path you take? Sometimes, you have to remind yourself that its just life – make a decision and move on. The important thing is to be happy and be at peace.

Are you looking at the turn or the road?

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?

Go With The Flow

Imagine if you could hear a tree talk like us humans. What do you think the tree would say?
Option 1: ‘Oh! My God. It started snowing again. How can it snow again when it just snowed yesterday? And the tree next to me – why cannot it just stick to its own space always leaning into my space. And on top of this, I am losing my leaves also…’

Option 2: ‘It is snowing. Leaves are falling. The tree next to me is leaning into me…’

Regardless of which option you chose, the trees are living option 2. They go with the flow – they bend when the wind comes, they stand straight when it is sunny. Be it floods, hurricanes they take everything in their stride because they know that trees are a part of an ecosystem and they are only playing their role. Trees mold themselves to what is happening as opposed to fighting against it. They surrender and accept what is.

Let’s look at us – the great human species. We cannot even accept that there is traffic on the road. It is happening, and for most of us it happens every day, but we fight against it with all our might and vain. And on top of it we make up stories about everyone else and how they are all the bad guys, and we are the only good one left on this planet. What is funny is that we humans have a fantastic skill to ignore what is happening and wish something else is happening.

Let’s say we have fallen sick – we will spend most of our time thinking about why it happened and why it is so bad that we are unwell, as opposed to accepting we are sick and then just moving on. Nothing is that easy for us – why would we make it easy? Our Life is supposed to be a misery and of our own making. Sometimes I wonder – the saying, ‘I was born intelligent – education (growing up) ruined me.’ might have a grain of truth in it.

Why do we fight against accepting what is? Habit, perhaps. We do not know any better. I don’t know. But I do know that we fight before allowing – that is the truth. Regardless of why we do it, now that we know that we do not go with the flow – what can we do about it? How do you go with the flow?

The first step for everything is awareness – become aware of the situation that you are resisting right now? Is it a difficult stakeholder at work? A tough circumstance in personal life? Is your car not working?

The second step after awareness is accepting the reality as it is. Accept that car is not working. Accept that you have a problematic stakeholder at work. Accept the problematic situation in life. Face it – look it in the eye.

And do not beat yourself up if you do not accept it entirely but when you do accept it and surrender you will know what the next step is – that is magic.

Will you let the magic happen in your life?