You and your mind – BFFs!!!

Your mind can be your best friend. So, don’t try to conquer it. Instead befriend it. Have conversations with it. Reason with it. Laugh with it! This is the only way you can get along with your mind, without it controlling you!

There’s an interesting story I remember reading. A sage was offering his prayers, when a very pretty lady walked past. He got distracted and kept thinking about her all day. The next morning he resolved that he would not get distracted by the beautiful woman. So, he closed his eyes tight. But when the lady walked past him, he was able to smell the jasmine flowers she wore in her hair and so he got distracted again. He was now angry with himself and vowed to close his eyes and nose the next morning. Yet, when the lady went past him, he was able to ‘feel’ her presence because he heard the sound of her anklets pass him by. Angry and completely lost, the sage vowed now to close his ears as well. But despite his intention being right and his making a valiant effort, he could still ‘feel’ her presence the next day, even when his eyes, nose and ears were closed. That’s when the sage concluded that it was ‘all in the mind’.

Indeed. It always was, is and will be so! But however hard you try, you can never control the mind. The mind is like a tennis-ball spewing machine that players use to perfect their strokes. The mind spews thoughts endlessly, like the machine spews tennis balls. On an average, a human mind spews 60,000 thoughts daily. These thoughts range from the bizarre to the fearful to the practical to the anxious to fantasy stuff, all at the same time. Which is, in most unevolved and untrained human beings, the mind is never in the present. It is clinging on to a past memory or dwelling in a future worry! The Buddha describes the human mind as being filled with drunken monkeys __ who never sit still and keep jumping from tree to tree, from banana to mango to orange, screeching and screaming all the time! And, says the Buddha, the only way to calm your drunken monkeys down is to have conversations with them. Which is, to talk to your own mind.

When you speak to your own mind, you can be very sure that you will not be interpreted but will be understood. That you can be candid, you can choose to disagree and still be on ‘talking terms’! Wouldn’t you say the same thing of speaking your heart (or mind!) to and sharing with a friend?

Los Angeles-based sociologist and author, BJ Gallagher, shares her secret for making your mind your best friend on her blog:

I’ve found that engaging the monkeys in gentle conversation can sometimes calm them down. I’ll give you an example: Fear seems to be an especially noisy monkey for people like me who own their own business. As the years go by, Fear Monkey shows up less often, but when he does, he’s always very intense. So I take a little time out to talk to him.

“What’s the worst that can happen?” I ask him.

“You’ll go broke,” Fear Monkey replies.

“OK, what will happen if I go broke?” I ask.

“You’ll lose your home,” the monkey answers.

“OK, will anybody die if I lose my home?”

“Hmmm, no, I guess not.”

“Oh, well, it’s just a house. I suppose there are other places to live, right?”

“Uh, yes, I guess so.”

“OK then, can we live with it if we lose the house?”

“Yes, we can live with it,” he concludes.

“And that usually does it. By the end of the conversation, Fear Monkey is still there, but he’s calmed down. And I can get back to work, running my business and living my Life,” says Gallagher.

So, stop obsessing over your mind. There are NO mind-control methods. You can at best make your mind your best friend. Talk to your mind, to your drunken monkeys – to the Fear Monkey, the Anxiety Monkey, the Sorrow Monkey, the Jealous Monkey and any other, as the situation may demand. And calm them down. Once you have achieved that, you and your mind, the two of you, can be Best Friends Forever! 

A lesson in finding yourself from ‘Finding Fanny’!

There will be times in Life when you will find yourself lost. Don’t panic or feel frustrated at such times. Know that only when you are lost, can you find your way – and find yourself!
I recently watched this very cute Bollywood English film called Finding Fanny(2014, Homi Adajania, Naseeruddin Shah, Dimple Kapadia, Pankaj Kapur, Deepika Padukone and Arjun Kapoor). The story revolves around how Ferdie, an old postmaster, goes in search of his lady love, Fanny, who he had lost contact with 46 years ago. Ferdie is supported in his search by Angie, a widow who lost her husband on the day of their wedding six years ago. Tagging along with Angie is her mother-in-law, Rosie, who claims her husband is dead but the truth is he ran away with someone else and Rosie makes up his “lost in the sea” story so that she doesn’t lose face in the village. Then there’s the man who has loaned his car for the search journey, an artist, who has a fixation for “big women” – and Rosie is his latest muse. Driving the car is young Savio, whose inability to profess his love for Angie to her in the first place, led to her wedding and subsequent widowhood! As the story unfolds you discover that while finding Fanny is indeed the context, each of these characters is really searching for something they are missing in their own lives. Each of them has lost something – most importantly, precious years of their Life – and are seeking love and belonging in their own ways. That’s where, subconsciously Finding Fanny, connects to our own real, everyday, lives.
Each of us, at different times in Life, in different, often unique, contexts, will find ourselves lost. Either a job might have become listless or a relationship may have lost its very meaning. Or, sometimes, just raising a family – bringing up kids, attending to parents and in-laws, providing for the spouse – can take its toll. There may also be times when some decisions you took about your Life have misfired and you are swamped with guilt and self-pity. Or someone you deeply love someone who was you anchor, your everything, is suddenly gone – is felled by Life and is dead. Each of these situations – and many more – can happen to anybody. It can happen to you. It can happen to me.
The normal reaction in such times is to feel depressed. You will be deluged with a lot of questions in your mind. Questions for which you will have no immediate answers. What is the meaning of Life? Why am I having to face this problem situation? Why me, now? Is there really a God out there? If there is God, then why do good people like me have go through pain – and suffer? Why should I live any longer? Why is the world full of cynical, scheming, uncaring people? Where can I find love? Where can I find home? Just the vast range of questions, and the lack of answers, can weigh you down even more. And you will end up being more depressed than you already are.
But know and remember this: allowing depression to take over is not the way to respond to Life. In fact, when depression strikes and you sense a ‘lack of meaning’ in your Life, get up, even if you don’t feel like it, and push yourself to keep walking, even if you lack the energy or intent to even take the next step. As much as you may think that Life has been cruel to you by placing you in a certain situation – joblessness, a critical health challenge, a divorce, widowhood, death of a child, a business failure or whatever – the truth really is whatever it is now that you have is really your new Life. Being depressed means continuing to mourn the Life you once had. But think about it. What was once is gone. It is not going to come back. No matter how hard you pine for it. Feeling lost and  feeling depressed are convenient ways of saying you want to delay, you want to postpone living. Fine. But Life will go on. Just as the characters in Finding Fanny discover, your years will simply pass you by. There’s no point waking up later in Life and wailing that you lost such a lot of time just feeling depressed. Instead, when dealt with Life’s twists and turns, learning to accept what is, the way it is, taking it all in your stride and moving on – you will discover, is intelligent living!

You don’t feel lost in Life because Life has been unkind to you. You feel lost because you don’t understand, or often you don’t want to understand, that the Life you have is the onlyLife you have. When you realize that you must live this Life that you have – no matter what circumstances exist – to the fullest, relishing every moment of the experience, you will have found yourself!

Expunge the IFs and the WHENs – Be Happy!

The idea that you can worry today and someday in the future you will be happy is the one that induces all your suffering!
We have been conditioned to believe that happiness comes from all our external reference points and is subject to certain conditions being fulfilled. I will be happy IF I get a job. I will be happy IF I get money. I will be happy WHEN I get a good companion. I will be happy WHEN I get to sell my property. The IFs and WHENs in our Life are the ones that cause us unhappiness.
The very logic that we will be happy upon reaching a milestone means that if we don’t reach it, we will be unhappy. And the human mind is such a creation that when one want is met, one milestone is attained, it will want more, and want to conquer another milestone. So, there is a perpetual chase that we are on, and therefore, that’s precisely why we remain perpetually unhappy. As individuals, as families, as communities, as nations, as a world and as a race!
Bhutan, the tiny Himalayan kingdom, has made significant moves to change this thinking at a national level. It introduced, a couple of years ago, a measure called Gross National Happiness (GNH), in lieu of GDP, which focuses on what it believes are four contributors to a nation’s happiness levels: sustainable economic development, conservation of the environment, preservation of culture and good governance. But these four aspects prima facie may mislead. In reality, Bhutan’s GNH survey asks people simple questions like ‘How many people can you count on for help in case you get sick? How often do you talk about spirituality to your kids? When did you last spend time socializing with your neighbors?’. These are questions that apply to you and me too. And it’s high time we ask them and several more.

What Life will teach you, if it hasn’t taught you already, is that by choosing to save ‘being happy’ for another day, you are actually postponing living. Important too is the fact that you need nothing to be happy. You just must be willing to be happy. Happiness is not dependent on any circumstance. Nothing can really make you unhappy UNLESS you allow it to! So, please don’t put off being happy for another day. Because, you never know, tomorrow may never come!

Don’t make situations difficult by avoiding honest conversations

There may be times in Life when you may not want to have some conversations. You may, in fact, want to run away from such situations.
But please don’t do that. It is through simple, honest, conversations, however difficult they may be to have, that you can attempt to resolve tricky situations or at least get things off your chest, leading you to peace. The reason why you want to avoid talking to some people is because you experience them differently. You don’t see them as being open, having integrity or matching up to your standards of thinking. First, know that it is absolutely fine to think the way you are thinking about people. You are normal. Now, that you feel better, consider also the fact that people are different the world over. Just as you are entitled to your opinion others are too. And if their opinion does not match yours, so be it. There is nothing tragic about a difference of opinion or perspective. Don’t dramatize the way you feel about it.
Instead of conjuring up a non-existent emotional scenario in your mind, go out there and speak your mind. And if you don’t want to be the one starting off the conversation, please enjoin if the other party starts it. Don’t react. Just state what you feel. Don’t intellectualize, don’t sermonize. Speak from the heart, sincerely, without fearing how you will be interpreted. Give the situation, and the person you speak to, dignity. Know that even if you may not be able to arrive at a resolution immediately, you would have moved in the right direction. You will feel better. And that’s the first and most important step towards your inner peace and joy.

It is only from your inner joy that you can create joy in your circle of influence, which includes the person(s) that you are trying to avoid. Conversations are not difficult to have. You make situations difficult by not having honest conversations!  

“Tomorrow the birds will sing. Get up and face Life!”

In any tough situation, never ever give up!  
Last evening, I was watching Charlie Chaplin’s iconic City Lights (1931). In one scene, an eccentric millionaire wants to end his Life. And the Tramps tells him: “Tomorrow the birds will sing. Get up and face Life!”.
That is the way it is. Life is something which has to be faced – no matter what. Our entire expectation that we must not face difficult times or tough situations is wrong. The most important education we must all carry with us is the awareness that Life is just a series of experiences. Some of them may be easy to handle. And some will be tough. Just because the going gets tough, it doesn’t mean we must sulk, brood, feel depressed and eventually give up. What we must remember is that no matter how difficult a situation is, what doesn’t kill us, only makes us stronger!
Many of us are victims of flawed thinking. When faced with a challenge or confronted with tragedy, we imagine that everything about our world is wrong. We feel alone in the wake of Life’s challenges. So we bemoan our situations and lament that we are cursed and doomed. This thinking pushes us into a depressive spiral. Now we have two problems – one is the challenging situation itself and the second is the depression we have invited into our Life. But, with a little awareness and some support from friends or family, if we pause to look around we will be surprised – everybody around us is challenged. Someone’s dealing with a health setback, someone’s coping with the death of a loved one, someone’s struggling in business, another’s trying to salvage a sinking career and someone is trying in vain to rebuild a dead relationship. Everyone’s dealing with pain – only the degrees and the contexts vary, that’s all.
For all the challenges that people face, this then must be a very, very depressive world that we live in! But it is not. And that’s because not everyone who has been felled by Life, lies there ruing their fate. People get up, dust themselves and move on. You must do so too. The best way to pull yourself out of a rut is to accept that your Life is what it is, the way it is. And what you have to do in any given situation – no matter how daunting it may be – is to simply face it. No amount of your wishing that things were different from the way they are, no amount of your crying, no amount of your kicking around in anger and frustration, can change your current reality. Irrespective of how you feel about Life, every long, dark night will soon become a bright day, and as the Tramp said so wisely, tomorrow the birds will sing – again. So, you might as well get along and enjoy the beauty and magic of the Life that you still have than fret over what has happened to you. Whatever is – is what you were ordained to experience. What is not – was never meant to be. If you get these two perspectives deeply embedded in your understanding of Life, you too will live happily ever after!

Be mindful to rid yourself of all that which controls you

To get rid of habits that have taken over your Life, just become more aware, mindful and be conscious of the present.
Anything that controls your Life is not worth it. You have been created to be free. To live in absolute joy! But are you joyous when you are in the throes of a debilitating, ruinous habit?
Some weeks ago, a few of us got together for a few drinks. One of the friends smoked several cigarettes through the evening. We tried counseling him. But he dismissed our advice with defeatist logic: “Guys, let’s talk about something which can happen logically!” What he didn’t state but expressed with his refusal to consider our advice was: “This habit is something that I am unable to rid myself of.” Actually, quitting a ruinous habit is not difficult at all. All my friend needs to do is become more aware. If he starts focusing on each puff of his cigarette, and meditates as he inhales and exhales, he will become aware of the destruction he is causing himself; he will be conscious of the meaninglessness of his pursuit. What does smoking do to you? It doesn’t satisfy anything once it becomes a habit. Ask any smoker and she or he will say they loathe themselves. When it becomes a habit, smoking makes the smoker guilty, fearful and depressive. So, he or she will smoke more. And then more. That is how it becomes a suicidal cycle. The idea is not to cure a smoker because we can save that person from dying. All of us have to die someday. But the idea is to make the smoker live fully, blissfully, as long as she or he is alive!
I have been there, on that ruinous path and I know how it feels. I used to chew 20 packets of gutka (a chewable tobacco product) a day. It is now over 10 years since I quit that habit – so, consequentially, I also know that giving up a destructive habit is possible. My perspective comes from my own experience.
This perspective, interestingly, can be applied to any habit. Anger, sorrow, jealously, self-pity, depression, hatred, suspicion, all these negative emotions, are habits too, that we have developed over years of living mechanically, without awareness. They are as dangerous and destructive as smoking or drinking as habits are. Anger, for instance, cannot be avoided. Anyone can and will feel angry when expectations are not met. The difference between an awakened and aware person and an unaware one is that the aware will KNOW that anger has arisen within her or him. This awareness will help that person make a conscious choice to not allow the anger to control her or him. The awareness will replace the anger with tolerance or with forgiveness or with just letting go. Awareness, mindfulness can be learnt through continuous practice. All you need to do is to start LIVING in the now. That’s all. When you are here and in the now, you don’t look back, you don’t look forward. Do that in every single moment of your day today. And see the difference for yourself.

The same approach, the same logic works for any habit. Just don’t try to stop smoking or getting angry or feeling lousy. Because if you try to do that you will replace one ruinous habit with another. Instead start being in the moment. Start being aware. Being mindful. That, and that alone, will help you rid yourself of all that which controls you and keeps you nailed to the ground. 

To win, just don’t fight!

The best way to win a battle is not to fight at all.
This may seem so impractical. So defeatist. Yet, it is the most peaceful and, at the same time, most combative of all battle strategies. Many a time, people will scheme and check-mate you with their moves. In business, in relationships, in society and in politics. Life too will appear to be conspiring against you. In these times, you will want to rush to defend your position, clear your name and reclaim your credibility. You have been brought up to believe that you must employ the truth and take a stand on issues you believe in. So, you feel your choice of defending yourself and fighting your detractors is justified. Theoretically, yes. But in reality, just consider the amount of energy you will lose fighting those who use deception, guile and lack scruples. This doesn’t mean you should not make your point at all. Make it surely. Just don’t fight.
There’s so much value in defending yourself intelligently than aggressively. The problem with aggression, while it does get your adrenalin pumping, is that there’s too much negativity that it throws up: How dare he? Let me teach her a lesson. I will vanquish him. And so on. In a real, disputed situation, all this bravado is unnecessary. What is the issue? What is the other party saying? What are you saying? What is the way forward for both parties? In the end, it all boils down to these four points. Anything else, even an extra word, is a waste of time, effort and energy for all concerned.

Sun Tzu, the ancient Chinese military general, in The Art of War, writes, “For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.” While borrowing from his philosophy I will suggest that you don’t treat your detractor as an enemy. He or she is just an unevolved soul who is causing you pain, injury, anguish, only because he or she is suffering from much greater pain within. If it is just an insult, you can forgive and move on. But if it is something that is challenging you at your very core, that has trampled upon your self-esteem and that which questions your value systems, then, by all means, take a stand. Let that stand be grounded in a peaceful and principled rejoinder. And not be a loud, ugly statement or show of strength and fury! It is so elementary if you consider it. When you are at peace, you can think with greater clarity. And to win a battle, any battle, in Life, with Life, you don’t need much ammunition, as much as you need good quality thought and peace! 

The password for attracting miracles into your Life: “Let Go!”

Miracles happen to you only because you need them – and not because you prayed harder or that you deserve them over someone else!
In continuation of my post yesterday on Shirdi Sai Baba, some readers pinged me wanting to know more about the miracles he is known to have created and continues to create in the lives of his followers. Well, the miracles Baba created in his lifetime are well documented and I don’t wish to enlist them here one more time. However, let me share my personal perspective on miracles here.
First, let’s get a better understanding of what is a miracle. The truth is that you are a miracle. I am a miracle. This moment, and your ability to read this post, is a miracle – you are educated, you have a laptop or a PC or a mobile device, have internet connectivity and, above all, have vision (eyesight), which is why you are able to read this post! Isn’t that a miracle? There are millions who don’t have any such luck! You and I are miracles – because, think about it, else, we may well have been created as the swine that gives the flu than be created as the human being that receives the flu! But we are all so obsessed with the rat race that we run, earning-a-living, that we don’t consider any of these as miracles. We simply take everything that we have for granted and keep pining for what we don’t have!
Deepak Chopra, in his beautiful book, ‘Why is God Laughing?’, says that miracles happen when mind-body-soul are in alignment. He says there are three levels of mind-body-soul alignment and hence three types of miracles are possible. At the most basic level of mind-body-soul alignment, he says we can BUY whatever we want to. And that is a miracle. Believe me, the ability to BUY something with money is a miracle. I have, through the years of my family’s financial strife, and the several spells of pennilessness we have been through, known what it means when you can’t afford to BUY even groceries for everyday survival. At the second level of mind-body-soul alignment, says Chopra, when you WISH for something, it often happens. For instance, if on a hot summer afternoon, you wished for a cold lemonade or beer and a friend passing by decides to drop in with some cans for you. This may have happened, in our own ways, at least once in our lives. Chopra says that whenever this must have happened, our mind-body-soul may well have been in alignment. If that alignment can be consistent, at that level, more of what you WISH happens to you or comes to you! At the third, and perhaps highest, level of mind-body-soul alignment, says Chopra, you can actually CREATE whatever you think of or visualize. This means you can CREATE an object or an event or a situation. And this is what the Himalayan Masters (please read Swami Rama’s ‘Living with the Himalayan Masters’ for a better understanding) or Shirdi Sai Baba or Swami Sathya Sai Baba were capable of. In the name of rationality, the less spiritually evolved folks, dismiss this ability to CREATE miracles as “cheap magic”. Fine, so be it. To each one, their own. To me, Chopra’s reasoning is both powerful and true.
So, how does one attract miracles into one’s Life? Is it by praying to someone like Baba or to a Higher Energy? Or is it by following rituals or tantric practices? Actually, if you can just let go of this view that you need to do something about your Life, your mind-body-soul will reach a basic level of alignment for you to be able to attract miracles into your Life. Again, let me reiterate that the most profound miracle of them all is the fact that you are human and are alive. But if you want more “apparent” miracles to happen to you, please let go! You will then attract the right people, the right opportunities and the right energies. Which means you will get the job you want, the companion you have been longing for, the wealth and assets you wanted and everything that you once thought was beyond your reach. So, the password for attracting miracles into your Life is “Let Go!”.

This is where Shirdi Sai Baba, or any of the world’s greatest teachers, comes in. He teaches Faith and Patience; and in championing Sab Ka Maalik Ek (There’s only one Creator for all of us; one Higher Energy!), he invokes in us the spirit to let go!  “Let Go!” means to simply stop wanting to control your Life. It means to live with the awareness that this lifetime, from your birth till your death, is nothing but a series of pre-ordained experiences. Unless you go through all the experiences, your lifetime will not be complete. Letting go, therefore, means to let Life take over and you simply (learn to) accept whatever comes your way. This is how your mind-body-soul get aligned in a special, natural, sub-conscious manner. Then you will notice how things happen to you. You will realize that the miracles in your Life are coming to you, happening to you, not because you have prayed harder or that you deserve them over someone else – they are there simply because you need them and because you have “Let Go!”