Drink from the Cup of Life, one sip at a time!

Learn to be aware of what you are doing. It is through awareness that you become peaceful.
There are two ways of doing anything. You can do something mechanically. Or you can do it mindfully, with total involvement, with awareness. Try building awareness into your Life with simple things. Don’t eat, for instance, without being aware of what you are eating. We normally just eat – thinking of something else or we are checking our phones or we are swapping channels on TV or we are flipping through a book. We are eating alright, but we are not mindful of our eating. It is a listless, mechanical, to-do item on our checklist – you can’t avoid eating, so you eat! The way to eat with awareness is to eat with gratitude – for those several thousands of people, some of them nameless and faceless, who have toiled to make your meal arrive at your table – and to eat relishing every morsel. Enjoying food is a very spiritual experience. When you eat like this, mindfully, you train your mind to be in the present and not wander away. This is the way you can build awareness in everything – while walking, while drinking your tea or even  beer, while bathing, while gardening….in fact, while doing anything!
Now, be sure, the mind will protest when you order it to be present in the moment, to be mindful and aware. The mind doesn’t like to be in the now. Because when you are immersed in the moment, the mind cannot worry or grieve. And the human mind loves worrying and grieving! Think about this. When you relish each sip of your green tea – or any of your favorite beverage – in that moment of relishing, you will not be worrying about the future or be remorseful about the past. In that moment, there’s only the green tea, there’s only freshness, there’s pure, unadulterated joy! You will have the same experience if you were to take a cold bottle of water on a hot summer afternoon and drink from it. For those few moments that you quench your thirst, nothing will really matter. But this is where the mind will play dirty. It will draw you into the future – filling you with anxiety over something that is yet to happen. Or it will drag you into the past and make you feel guilty or sad about what has happened. So, for instance, how can you enjoy your meal or relish your green tea when someone’s dying in hospital (anxiety over a future event) or when you have had a massive argument with your companion (grief and guilt over the past)? Your mind will tell you that what’s more important than being in the now, is feeling anxious and/or feeling remorseful. And you will capitulate. This is what has been happening to you, to me, all this while. This is also why we don’t experience inner peace. But if you learn to tell your mind to back off, to allow you to experience the now, your mind will heed you. Surprisingly, with little or no protest. The mind though aggressive is very obedient. With consistent effort it can be trained. When you reach that state when you can learn to be fully aware and mindful, of whatever you are doing, you are actually free from the clutches of your mind. Then you are neither brooding nor imagining worst-case, yet-to-happen, scenarios. Then you are the peace that you seek!
Mindfulness is about being aware of whatever you are doing, by immersing yourself totally in that activity, consciously. It is through awareness that you can drink from the cup of Life, one sip at a time, one moment at a time.
Advertisements

Trick your mind to get rid of anxiety



In some situations in Life you may just not know what to do.Anxiety may then feed on your helplessness. You know that feeling anxious is not a solution __ but you go on fretting, fuming, worrying, fearing, because you don’t have a concrete action plan, a set of certified things you can and must do. This can be both habit-forming and will cripple you. You are robbed of your inner peace and, over time, you become a complete wreck.

Several of us have ended up living Life like zombies – just going about things, wearily, while being held hostage by your own anxieties. It all began at some time with not knowing what to do. And it continues to be so, not knowing how to live and what to do about getting rid of our own anxieties!

There’s a way out. That way has always been there for you, in front of you, but you have not seen it because you have been preoccupied. Finding that way and getting on that path requires a simple appreciation and understanding of how Life operates. And how our human mind works.

First, know that there is no guarantee or requirement that every Life problem must be solved by you. So, accept that it is just perfectly fine, ever so very often, to not know what to do. Second, understand that your anxiety is always about non-existent stuff. You may be anxious about the past – having done something that you regret. But the past is over. It is done and dead. So what’s so intelligent about grieving the past and being anxious about it? Or you may be anxious about the future – which has not happened, so, in effect, it too is non-existent! What’s so intelligent again about worrying of a future that is unborn. But the human mind thrives on anxiety. It loves the past. It adores the future. And so it’s simply ecstatic to stay anxious. And you if you want to get over your anxieties, you need to break that mind pattern of yours. You need to bring your mind to focus on the present. It is only in the present that the mind becomes powerless. It is only when you are living in the present moment that you will be free of all anxiety and you will find inner peace.

Bringing your mind to focus on the present and for you to gain mastery over your mind requires no rocket science. Osho, the Master, often told a Zen story to teach how ingenious some solutions to this universal problem can be:

Bokuju, a Zen Master lived alone in a cave. He would sometimes say loudly, “Bokuju” — his own name, and then he would answer, “Yes, I am here.” His disciples used to ask him, “Why are you calling ‘Bokuju’, your own name, and then saying, ‘Yes sir, I am here’?” Bokuju said, “Whenever I get into anxious thinking, I have to remember to be alert, and so I call my own name, ‘Bokuju.’ The moment I call ‘Bokuju’ and I say, ‘Yes sir, I am here,’ the anxious thinking disappears.”

Asking this question to yourself, calling out your own name, works. Because it breaks the circuit, it interrupts the anxious train of thoughts that are speeding through your mind’s highway. I have devised a simple variation of the same concept. I often say, “AVIS, Steady! Steady!”  Or I repeat a simple mantram (this is what I learned from my guru Eknath Easwaran) or an easy-to-recall inspirational quote. Those approaches too work. As will yours.

So, use whatever helps you as a circuit breaker. Once the debilitating chain of thoughts is broken, your mind momentarily, arrives in the moment. Just hold it there and you will be free of all anxiety. To stay free forever, all you need to do is to practice to keep your mind focused perpetually on the present! Try this. And feel the difference!


What time’s your appointment with Life?


The unforgettable ‘appointment with death’ scene from Agneepath

In the iconic, original, Hindi movie ‘Agneepath’ (Path of Fire, 1990, Mukul Anand), Vijay Dinanath Chauhan, played admirably, memorably by Amitabh Bachchan, tells the Police Commissioner, M.S.Gaitonde (Vikram Gokhale) that he (Vijay) has ‘an appointment with death’ at 6.30 PM that evening. The unforgettable dialogue is, ‘Apun ka maut ke saath appentment hai, kya?’.

I was reminded of that movie and that dialogue when I came across the concept of our appointment with Life. With some time to kill, I ended up browsing through the famous Nalanda bookstore at the Taj Mahal Hotel, by the Gateway of India, yesterday. There, Vitenamese Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hahn’s (Thay) book “Our Appointment With Life” stared back at me.

It is such a simple and beautiful concept. In our everyday Life, all through each week, our calendars are full of appointments. Technology has made the calendar universally compatible across multiple platforms – MS Outlook, Apple, Google, smart phones and so on. Reminders and alerts are possible too. Overlapping events are pointed out. And at a glance a whole month or quarter or year can be looked up. Many people I know have often displayed enormous pride in declaring that their calendars are full for many, many weeks and months.

But what about our appointment with Life?

Thay writes in his usual, inimitable, simple, soul invoking style: “Our appointment with Life is in the present moment. The place of our appointment is right here, in this place.” So beautiful.

Thay quotes The Buddha from the Dhammapada as saying, “Let go of what is the past. Let go of what is not yet. Observe deeply what is happening in the present moment, but do not be attached to it.” This, says Thay, is the way to keep our appointment with Life! To live perpetually in the present moment.

 Agneepath’s’ Vijay Dinanath Chauhan famously demonstrated fearlessness by agreeing to keep his appointment with death, by venturing out to meet his detractors who were waiting to assassinate him. What about you and me? Of course, we all have an appointment with death – except we don’t know when it actually is! But we can choose to keep our appointment with Life by learning to live, with detachment, in the present moment – unburdened by the past and unmindful of the future. Simply, by being – engaged with present!


Being prayerful is being mindful!


Being prayerful means being alive to the moment. It is not about rituals, hymns and mantras. It is about being thankful for this lifetime and this experience __ as you are living it__at this precise moment!

A lot of time, resources, effort, spirit, and even money, gets invested in trying to be pious. People simply lose their way, their focus and, at times, even their sanity looking for ways to reach “a” God. The mandarins of religion only complicate matters, confounding already confused souls, by championing the concepts of sin, hell and heaven. So the whole industry of religion works on inducing fear in vulnerable minds. Nothing can be more sinful than making God seem unattainable, unwieldy and distant__that too through, and despite, prayer!

First let me share an interesting Zen story I came across that demystifies and demolishes this whole concept of hell and heaven.

Hakuin, the fiery and intensely dynamic Zen Master, was once visited by a Samurai warrior.
“I want to know about heaven and hell,” said the Samurai. “Do they really exist?” he asked Hakuin.

Hakuin looked at the soldier and asked, “Who are you?”

“I am a Samurai,” announced the proud warrior.

“Ha!,” exclaimed Hakuin. “What makes you think you can understand such insightful things ? You are merely a callous, brutish soldier ! Go away and do not waste my time with your foolish questions,” Hakuin said, waving his hand to drive away the Samurai.

The enraged Samurai couldn’t take Hakuin’s insults. He drew his sword, readied for the kill, when Hakuin calmly retorted, “This is hell.

The soldier was taken aback. His face softened. Humbled by the wisdom of Hakuin, he put away his sword and bowed before the Zen Master.
And this is heaven,” Hakuin stated, just as calmly.

Another Hakuin Zen story
I don’t think any scripture can simplify these concepts to the extent this simple story has. Being humble, humane and bowing to the God ‘within’ others makes us loving, compassionate and awakens us to the ‘God’ within us too! Being vengeful, unforgiving and refusing to respect another Life makes us miserable and causes all our suffering! So, now you know what is causing you a hellish experience and what can heave you up to ‘your’ heaven!

The question we need to ask ourselves is, of what use are all the religious rituals that we conduct monotonously and mindlessly when we are not mindful of Life’s gifts__the grace, abundance, blessings in our lives__ itself and we continue to still worry, fear and agonize over what the unknown future holds for us?

I am reminded of a conversation that I had with our family priest a few years ago. A self-confessed champion of piety, who called himself a ‘strict Brahmin’, he came to me asking for career advice for his son who was looking to join an IT services company after completing his undergraduate studies in software engineering. He explained that his son had been selected by a leading software company through campus interviews. Yet he claimed he was worried. Our conversation went somewhat like this:

Me: Why are you worried Sir?

Him: I don’t know if IT companies can offer job security the way the government can!

Me: Why would you, a faithful servant of the Lord, for years now, be insecure __ and want to seek security in a government job?

Him: Sir, how can God guarantee job insecurity?

Me: What is God there for then if HE/SHE can’t guarantee you security?

Him: Sir, velayadathengo! Don’t pull my leg, Sir! God can’t come and tell me that my son’s future is assured!

Me: If God can’t tell you that, the one who has direct access to HIM/HER, who else can reach God? Why do you pray then?

Him: Sir, praying to God is my profession. I still need something else to tell me that my Life is on track and that my family and I will be secure!

With due apologies to my family priest, I must confess that this is the problem with praying mindlessly. That ‘something else’ which my priest was looking for__and I hope he found it in his own way subsequently__is ‘mindfulness’. When you are mindful of the present moment, and are grateful for it, that would be prayer enough that would make you realize God!

You will then find God in this blessing__that you have to access facebook and are  able to read a post. You will find God when you feel the air in your lungs. You will find God in the sunrises and sunsets that happen outside your window every single day without fail. You will find God in a child’s smile, in leaves rustling in the night breeze, in a cow mooing and in a dew drop! You will find God in every form of creation that you connect with. You will find God in each moment. And then you will understand and value what being prayerful is all about. You will then realize that such true prayer, of living in the moment, alone can lead you to bliss!

It’s never too late to start living in Life!


It is never too late to start living in Life!

 

We miss the beauty and magic of everyday moments because we are either grieving over what happened or are fearful of what may happen. Truth be told, we are all, always, journeying through Life with more load than what we can carry. We are carrying baggage from the past __ guilt, remorse, grief and we are carrying unreasonable expectations of the future __ fear, worry and anxiety. Either way, we are struggling through Life. So, Life appears to be a drudgery. A burden. And a sad song.

 

To be sure, no one, simply no one, is spared of pain in this lifetime. Everyone who is born on the planet has to deal with their share until, as most scriptures say, death frees them. This is the truth and this reality is inescapable. It is when we label this share of pain as unfair, unjust and unkind, and therefore resist it, that we suffer.

 

Simply, tell you pain off: “Hello, you have come uninvited and I know I can’t do anything about it. So you be where you are, do what you want to do. I am choosing to be unmoved and I am choosing to just be. Now watch your relationship with pain change.” It will potter around with your Life but not at the cost of your missing the opportunity to live!    

 

In most Indian homes, despite the best pest control methods available today, it is rare that you will not find lizards. Now, there are many people who grieve at the sight of a lizard. They are petrified of them and imagine horrible consequences of co-existing with them. They cringe and suffer all the time. But there are several million others, across the subcontinent, that just let the lizards be and they be themselves. Yes, everyone wishes that the lizards don’t present themselves in front of them, but when they know they can’t do pretty much anymore, they make their peace and move on. Pain is like the lizard in an Indian home. It just likes to hang round. And it doesn’t have a vicious agenda to terrorize you and make you feel miserable. You suffer because you hate its presence! The best way to deal with pain is to make your peace with it. Then, Life becomes worth living.

Yesterday, it was very relieving to see a young friend come to terms with Life, making peace with her pain, a year after her husband’s untimely passing away. She celebrated the fact that she had found Life worth living all over again! It will be both impractical and foolish to imagine that she will not have memories and she will not feel sorrowful whenever she reminisces. But acceptance is a gift you can give yourself that will, while not taking away your pain, will help you to live without suffering. The key operative word here is ‘to live’.

So, make a serious investment in the rest of your Life NOW. This is one investment that requires no gestation period to earn you a return. You invest and you harvest instantaneously. Stop grieving over what has happened so far. And stop worrying about what will happen. You will be unable to live if you focus on ‘What Was’ or “What Isn’t’ or ‘What If’. Life thrives only in the ‘What Is’ realm. You can live fully only IN your Nows. And it is never too late to start living (IN) them!  


Gift yourself the Miracle of Mindfulness


As you start a New Year, gift yourself mindfulness. 

Mindfulness is not an impractical, difficult to do, practice if you understand the concept clearly. It is the ability to just stay engaged in the moment. Because Life is happening only in the present.

After last night’s revelry, it’s possible you slept late and woke up late too. But while you may have woken up, you may not be awake in the true sense. Mindfulness is being awake to the miracle of what’s happening to you in the present.

But the mind is cruel. It doesn’t easily listen to what you want it to do. It slips back into guilt or grief about the past or begins to worry for the future. When you are stuck in the past or peering into the future you are forgetting to look at what is. You are then forgetful, not mindful!

The Vietnamese Master Thich Naht Hahn, also called ‘Thay’ by his followers, helps us with a simple, 3-step process to become mindful. Whenever your mind strays, which is ever so often, bring it back by:

1.     Smiling

2.     Focusing on your breathing

3.     Going about whatever you are doing slowly

Let’s say your mind starts thinking of an important commitment you have to keep, say, an EMI is to be paid. And you don’t have the money nor visibility for the money. As you dwell on what you don’t have, the money in this case, you will start worrying. And soon worry will breed insecurity. Instead, the moment your mind starts to worry, smile, focus on your breathing and bring your attention to what needs to get done to raise the money required to pay the EMI. Mindfulness may not take your problem away. But will help you see a solution instead of simply worrying about a problem. And only a solution can solve a problem, not worrying!

If you like the idea, put it into practice by declaring one day of the week, starting this year, your Mindfulness Day. Spend the entire day doing everything only within the framework of the 3 steps that Thay recommends. Whatever you do, from waking up, brushing your teeth, sipping your coffee, reading the papers, looking out the window, watching a movie, having sex, taking an evening walk, drinking wine, whatever, do it mindfully. Review how you feel at the end of the day. And you will find that it would have been the most beautiful day of your Life. Make sure you have a Mindfulness Day, each week. Over weeks, you will want to make your entire week have Mindfulness Days only!

This doesn’t mean you don’t pursue goals. That you don’t remain aggressive. That you abstain from something.

It only means quit brooding and quit worrying. This will be the best gift you can give yourself this New Year! That’s when you will discover the miracle in Mindfulness.

When you really get this practice embedded in the way you live, you will have a really Happy, because it is Mindful, New Year!

Every moment in Life is a Leap of Faith


Don’t approach the future with fear. Dive into it with complete abandon!

Many a time, thanks to the blows Life would have dealt you, you may choose to tread warily, cautiously. This innate human nature to be forewarned sometimes evolves into fear. Fear breeds insecurity. And that leads to worry. How can you deal with what’s coming up in your Life when you are not even present __ in the present moment?

Life’s inevitable situations are agreeably numbing. They just leave you scarred and socked. But don’t let a past experience prevent you from living what you are endowed with right now or prevent you from approaching what’s coming up, freely.

Anchor in faith though. Know that if you have lived through your worst times, then you are ready for anything. And believe me when I say that what you fear most never happens. And if it is death that you fear, then that’s foolish. Because if you were to die, you would not even know you are dead. Someone else will have to be called in to certify that you are dead.

By letting fear get to you, you are losing Life as it is happening. Going through challenging times IS Life! While planning is important and we should all work towards higher fiscal and physical efficiencies, we must also understand that Life’s Master Plan is above all else. And when Life happens, you better be present. If you are busy planning, fearing or are swamped in the past or worrying about the future, you will miss living. And when you think you are ready to live, it’s already too late and the time to die, to depart has come!

Remember: Life is a bunjee jump. Every moment of Life is a leap of faith. Either you can let the fear of unknown cripple you or you can anchor in faith and know also that during the course of your jump, even as you think it’s all over, you will either be given wings to fly or a hand will haul you up!