Still your mind and live in the now

Living in the past or being anxious, or hopeful, of the future, robs you of the present. To live in the present learn to still your mind.
The mind thrives in the past or in the future. In the present, the mind is powerless. Observe your thoughts closely, they are always of the past that is over and done with. Or they are of the future which is yet to come. Living in the past is easy because you have been there – it is predictable and you know what has happened. Living the future is again something that the mind tricks you into – one moment it tells you that the future is unknown and so it is scary. In another it says since we don’t know what will happen in the future let us hope for the best. So, you oscillate between fear and hope, imagining a future that no one has seen. In doing all this, which is living in the past, or in the future, you simply miss living in the present. In the now.
Life however is only in the present. We miss the beautiful opportunity to live in the present because we are held hostage by the mind. In Oriental philosophy they say that the real Buddha is one who has learnt to live in the moment – and one who goes on living from moment to moment. There’s then no guilt or grief about the past. In fact there are no thoughts of the past. And there’s no anxiety about the future. Who needs the future when the present is so beautiful?
To make your mind powerless, to still it, simply immerse yourself in whatever you are experiencing in the moment. For instance, if you are in rush hour traffic – be in it. Don’t think of the day ahead and your running behind schedule. Don’t think of the weekend and pine for it to come back again. In the most practical sense, when you are in a Monday, the weekend is still five days away. No amount of pining for it can bring it any closer. Living in the moment means knowing that Monday will have to be lived through for a Friday to arrive! When the mind becomes powerless you develop phenomenal focus – there’s no clutter, there’s no grief, guilt, fear or insecurity. You simply are. And when you are, you are happy!

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Life goes on … you too move on with it

In each moment, Life is new, fresh. As long as you don’t cling on to the past, and instead move on, you too can enjoy and enjoin in this freshness!
A friend was chatting with me some time back. She shared what she called a predicament with me. Her husband had died some years back. She married again. But she was not happy in that marriage. She said she liked her partner as a person but she could not imagine a Life with him. So, she separated from him. She has two children, from her first marriage, who are young, independent adults. Now, she told me, two men were actively interested in her. She wanted to know what to do and if there was anything wrong, at her age (she’s over 45), for her to seek companionship.
I asked her to explain why she thought anything would be wrong in the first place. “I loved my first husband dearly. Somehow I feel it’s wrong for me to move on. I feel I will be betraying that relationship. Besides, when I tried with my second marriage, I failed miserably. So, I am not sure if anything will work out for me if I try again,” she replied.
I told her: “Do whatever makes you happy. If someone’s presence in your Life makes you happy, be happy. Don’t hold yourself back. Your late husband and your marriage with him – both are not there anymore. Don’t cling on to that. Just because your second marriage did not work out, it doesn’t mean you will not be happy in a new relationship. Don’t look to validate everything. Let your inner joy alone be your reference point. You have a lot of Life still ahead of you. Just do whatever makes you happy.”
I haven’t heard from her since. I hope she chose her happiness over everything else.
But her story, while unique in its own way, reminds us of a classic conundrum that all of us face – which is, how do we move on in Life? Let me tell you from my own experience – and from what I have learned from Life – that there’s only one way to move on. And that way is to let go of the past.
Life is reborn, afresh and new, in each new moment. But you are stuck in the past, so you are not seeing this freshness, this newness, even if you are seeking it. Think of a situation where an infant is playing with your cell-phone and you want it back because you fear the phone will be dropped. So, you offer the child a bright-colored rattle and the child quickly parts with the phone and accepts the rattle. There’s great wisdom in the child’s action. The child intuitively knows that unless she lets go of what she has she cannot get the new toy. As adults, we must revive this child-like quality in us. Only then can we see the magic and beauty of the Life that we have.
No matter how much you cling on to the past, no matter how much you postpone or avoid living the Life that you have, Life keeps going on. Someone you love dies, Life does not stop for you. It goes on. You lose your job. Life goes on. An earthquake happens. You lose everything. Yet Life goes on. Now, you can either move on with Life. Or you can keep wishing that things are different. The truth is that all your wishing will always be in vain. Only your moving on can make you happy.

Travel light and you will travel far!


No. This is not a budget airline’s campaign line! But a simple Life philosophy. It is as easy-to-practice a tenet as it is forgettable and so it doesn’t really get used much or championed.

All of us fellow voyagers in Life are traveling with far too much excess baggage than what we really need. There are three forms of excess baggage we saddle our lives with:

  1. Emotional Baggage: Memories pertaining to past hurts, insults, events, experiences. Some of these are heart-wrenching and keep our spirit nailed causing deep anguish, pain and untold suffering.
  2. Physical Baggage: More than 50 % of the stuff that inhabits our homes__furniture to clothes to documents to kitchenware to shoes to display-ware__are the ones we have not used in months and, most often, in years. So, our homes are overloaded with ‘waste’ which can be useful for others when given away
  3. Baggage that never was and that never may well be: This is the baggage of worry and anxiety. Of things and events that you fear will happen to you and because of which you are unable to live free and in the moment

All three forms of excess baggage must be set down to travel in comfort. The second form, the physical baggage, may still be reconcilable. As in, if you have a large living space, you can afford to accumulate, save or hoard the stuff that you don’t always use. But the baggage falling in categories 1 and 3 are just not worth carrying. In a way, Life is pretty much like an airline company. You sure do end up paying a heavy price for traveling with heavy, excess baggage! In a Life context, that price is the inability to live in and experience the magic of the present moment, of the NOW!

I learned the value of traveling light and traveling smart from experience. I used to, about two decades ago, work for a boss who was very good to me. He gave me a lot of room to do my work. And gave me additional support and resources to get my work done. For instance, he would allow me plane travel when others in my rank were not allowed. He approved my use of limos for local transport when others were asked to use public transport. He allowed me a business entertainment allowance which was not allowed for anyone else in the company but him. I believed he was justly supporting me because I was the best performer on the team, achieving, and often exceeding, every single target I was given. To be sure, I never misused or abused my position. I only employed the extra resources available to me to deliver unprecedented results month on month! Then, something must have happened either at a leadership level or at an audit level__of which I was not aware. One fine morning, my boss called me and asked me to explain the use of limos in Mumbai when the city has so many ‘cool cabs’ (air-conditioned public taxis). I said I have been using these limos for over 18 months now and I did not see why the question was being raised now. My boss, not always known for his good temper, said I had no business asking those questions. He placed a couple of my expense claims in front of me, marked several bills in red ink rejecting my claims and said all additional out-of-rank perks to me were being withdrawn with immediate effect. I was aghast. The way he came across to me, I felt, he was questioning my integrity. I walked back to my desk and sent him a detailed note justifying my claims, attached my resignation letter to my note and left the office immediately. He tried to reach me a few times on my home number (in those days, we didn’t have email or cell phones so widely available as now) but I refused to take his calls. For years after this episode, and my abrupt departure from that job, every time I met a former colleague or any reference to this former boss came up, I would be abrasive and abusive about him. I would call him a thankless opportunist, who used me, and dumped me ‘when his job was over’. I would say, brazenly, and with conceit, that I built the company up and upon my departure, things came crashing down. Each time I launched into such a tirade, I discovered I would be filled with negativity which would last for days. The memory of that unceremonious episode__the avoidable question on my integrity and my hasty, acrimonious exit__caused me great pain and suffering, each time it surfaced.

Years went by. And then, one fine day, while traveling to Boston, MA, (USA) I bumped into this former boss of mine at a book store in Harvard Square. We both found looking into each other’s eyes in a matter of a few seconds. Had I had an opportunity, I would have preferred not to talk to him. Because even in the first few nano-seconds of our encounter, the meeting of our eyes, I could feel the negativity in me for him rise violently. He spoke first.

Him: “Hey AVIS! Wonderful to see you man! Where have you been?”. So saying, he looked at his wife, who was with him, and introduced me to her. He said, “AVIS is the best professional I have worked with. He’s ethical, deadline-driven and extremely target-focused.”

I was surprised. In fact, amazed. I don’t know what got into me. Maybe it was my rage. Pent up over years of carrying the burden of the memory of that awful episode. Maybe it was my immaturity. Whatever it was, it just led me to discard all norms of dignity and I took on my boss, in full view of his wife, in that chance encounter.

Me: “Ethical? Ha! That would not cut much ice with me. Weren’t you the one that disallowed my claims, citing reasons of my questionable integrity, and withdrew all the perks due to me in just one hasty decision without even asking me to explain or wanting to listen to me?”

Even as his wife looked on, my former boss, perhaps sensing that his immediate leadership of the situation was required, responded calmly to clarify.

Him: “I want you to know there was no question about your integrity. I was under pressure from both the management and the auditors to explain why you alone were being singled out for such ‘special treatment’. My boss had advised me to be ‘perceivably’ fair to everyone on the team so that even a just reward should not be seen as favoritism. So, while disallowing your claims momentarily, I was planning to work on a raise and a grade promotion for you basis your outstanding performance so that I am seen as not having to make policy exceptions every single time. This is what I was calling you about. But you never called back. I let you go because I felt you will learn better from Life than if I tried to reach you and teach you.”

In a momentary flash everything became clear to me. Indeed. I had learned. I had begun to dislike the negativity I carried about him and that episode, for years, that I had now begun to not want to think about it anymore. In my former boss’ clarification, I felt both humbled and sorry. I apologized to him. He hugged me saying it was okay. We stepped into a coffee shop, And over the next couple of hours, I emerged cleansed and peaceful.

Back in my hotel room, that night, I looked out my window at the Charles River, and asked myself:

  • How much negativity and years of boiling over could I have saved if I had not traveled without the baggage of that wasteful memory? It wasn’t at all about who was right or who was wrong or could the whole situation have been handled any better by both me and my former boss. What was gnawing at me was, wasn’t all this burden of carrying this angst, this grudge, imminently avoidable?
  • What a wonderful opportunity to speak up, share, clear the air, resolve and resume, would have been missed if I had not come face-to-face with the man? Given a choice I would have preferred slinking away from the encounter! Couldn’t I have written to him, or called him, in these intervening years, to clear the air? What did I gain with refusing to face him and with carrying this baggage on for so many years?

That night of self-enquiry awakened me to a whole world of inner peace and introduced me to a new way of journeying through Life __ of traveling light! I discovered that there is no value in giving power to the past or arming the future.

Either effort leads to excess baggage that you don’t need. What you need to live is what you have in the now. Ask yourself what past memories are causing an inexplicable heaviness in you? Ask yourself what worries take your mind away from attending to the now? Burn your heaviness away by giving the present all your attention. Make a call, give a hug, simply forgive__do whatever that will bring you into the present. Stop worrying about what will or may happen in the future. Life is here and never in the future, just as it is not in the past! Most important, learn, and keep relearning, to offload all your baggage and travel light. You will then not only travel smart, but travel far too!


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!
                                                                                                                                                                                          

Why not make today delicious?




Today is worryless, stressfree and miraculous if you realize that Tomorrows come again and again. Today, however, comes only once and is happening to you just NOW! Knowing this, internalizing it and practicing it can make your Life beautiful.

Basically, focus on the present and all will be well with you. Think about it. We never worry about or fear the present moment. We don’t pine for the present. Our worries are ALWAYS about an unknown future and our pain comes from a past that is over and done with. When we don’t live in the now, the only real moment that we know of, have in our control and are going through now, we are not living at all. We are merely existing. All our problems__financial, emotional, spiritual__arise ONLY from not focusing on the present, on the now.

Living in the past, or longing for an unknown future, is making us stagnate, vegetate and, in fact, rot. Don’t hit that rewind button. Live every moment fully, mindfully. You have to live first to understand, appreciate and enjoy Life. You can’t achieve that by merely being alive. Our outer realities, our circumstances may not always be of our choice. But how we want to live in them, in the present moment, can be by choice. Choosing, therefore, to live in the now, is an intelligent decision.

While researching on the net for a presentation I am due to make, I stumbled upon the Core Purpose, Mission and Brand tagline for Amercian food major Kraft Foods. It said: “Make Today Delicious”. It is perhaps the most delectable corporate statement you may ever find. It almost instantaneously suggests we revisit how we are leading our lives. It inspires you to want to get to that level of ease where each of your todays can indeed be delicious.


Very simply, it’s your todays alone that count. Not your yesterdays or a tomorrow that is still to arrive. As Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) Author, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, says, “The past, the present and the future are really one: they are today.”

Think about it. And make your today memorable. Better still why not make today delicious!?