Try just being and slow travel on your commute today

Sometimes, doing nothing, just being, is very calming, very therapeutic.

The first day of work in the New Year is upon us. And interestingly, it is a Monday morning!!!
Instead of rushing off to work, honking and struggling through traffic, try slow travel if you can. Slow travel need not be a vacation idea alone. You can slow travel daily. Start early, don’t drive if you can avoid it – take a cab or take public transport. And when you commute to work, don’t get immersed in your mobile device. Instead observe Life as it happens around you. Allow your mind to soak in each detail – the way people behave, the way vehicles snarl at each other, the way the city moves, the way the method to all the madness unfolds. In all this chaos, you remain silent – and calm. Don’t let your mind complain. Just be an observer. Don’t opinionate, even to yourself, or to a fellow commuter, on what you feel. Don’t label what you see as good or bad. Just take it all in. Breathe well – observe your breathing – slowly: in, out, in, out…
To be sure, what I suggest you must try is not a bizarre idea. This is just bringing in the ancient Zen practice of Mindfulness into everyday urban, city Life. Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895 ~ 1986), the thinker-philosopher, has said this: “You see, you are not educated to be alone. Do you ever go out for a walk by yourself? It is very important to go out alone, to sit under a tree—not with a book, not with a companion, but by yourself—and observe the falling of a leaf, hear the lapping of the water, the fishermen’s song, watch the flight of a bird, and of your own thoughts as they chase each other across the space of your mind. If you are able to be alone and watch these things, then you will discover extraordinary riches which no government can tax, no human agency can corrupt, and which can never be destroyed.” I believe – I have practiced this and found it to be true – that this same principle can be applied to rush hour traffic, while waiting at airports, on crowded metros, on a plane ride…wherever, in any context, in fact, as long as you remain silent and are willing to be just an observer, a witness.
Obviously, the nicest thing to do would be to go sit under a tree or by the beach. But in today’s world and time, when each of us is berating ourselves for being slave-runners on the rat race, any suggestion to “take time off from everyday routine” will be considered preposterous, inhuman and insane! So, why not tweak the routine, without disrupting it, why not employ silence periods (when you remain silent and detached from your mobile device), alone-ness (certainly not loneliness), witness-hood, slow travel and conscious breathing in your daily commute?
Another great thinker-philosopher of our times, Thich Nhat Hahn, now 89, and recovering from brain haemorrhage-led coma, has said: “In our busy society, it is a great fortune to breathe consciously from time to time. We can practice conscious breathing not only while sitting in a meditation room, but also while working at the office or at home, while driving our car, or sitting on a bus, wherever we are, at any time throughout the day…While I sit here, I don’t think of anything else. I sit here, and I know exactly where I am.”

So, try just being – no doing, no analyzing, no messaging, no complaining – for the duration of your home-work-home commutes today. Try it – it sure works! 

PS: All illustrations are property of the creator. They have been sourced from the Internet. No effort is made to infringe on the original copyright or to commercial gain from using them here.

Staying depressed is a complete waste of precious time

Dealing with depression requires a deeper understanding of what’s making you angry and unhappy. The moment you understand what is disturbing you, you can either let it go or fix it.  
A recent issue of India Today ran a cover story on depression. The statistics are alarming. One in every four women, and one in every 10 men, in India is depressed. That’s about 120 million people – enough to fill a state the size of Maharashtra! From death to divorce to health to stagnating careers, these people are battling unmet expectations and struggling to cope with the psychological impact of their challenged state of mind.
I know what it means and feels like to be depressed. About 10 years ago, I was depressed too – except that I didn’t even know I was depressed! I had gone to meet a renowned psychiatrist Dr.Vijay Nagaswami; I was reporting irrational bouts of anger. Dr.Nagaswami heard me out for an hour and told me that I was depressed. He said I had two ways in front of me to deal with my depression – medication or meditation. And he staunchly advocated the latter. Thanks to Dr.Nagaswami, for me, meditation worked.
I learnt to practice silence periods daily – a method called shubha mouna yoga. It required me to be silent for an hour each morning. That investment of an hour up front in the day helped me gain control over the remaining 23 hours! As my practice of mouna deepened, over time, I began to go to the root of my anger and my depression. Through that process, I understood myself and Life better.
Let me share my learnings here. You become depressed because something you expect has not happened. You wanted someone to love you, but she is not interested. You become depressed. You wanted a raise but it’s not happening. Again, you are depressed. The only person who understood you in the whole world is dead. You are depressed. You are accused of something you did not do. Depressed! You have a health situation that has crippled your functioning. You are depressed, to the point of losing interest in Life! So, in effect, whenever an expectation goes unmet, you are depressed.
Now, depression can manifest itself in two ways. As anger. As it happened to me. But that anger is not always there. A certain listlessness, a self-pity governs your daily Life. When someone or something interferes with it, you explode with anger. The other way depression happens is with sadness. Sadness is nothing but dormant, passive anger. You conclude you are helpless and lonely and that no one understands you. You brood all the time and keep pitying yourself.  Now, in either context – anger or sadness – the mind is not allowing you the opportunity to understand the futility of your being depressed. Which is why meditation – which helps you still your mind – is very useful in understanding what’s going on and choosing an intelligent response, and not a depressive one, to the situation.
Let us say you are angry, hurt, upset – and are therefore depressed – with the way someone has treated you. You can sulk for as long as you want, but that person is never going to realize that she or he has done something wrong, until you walk up and speak your mind. When you do this, that person can either accept your point of view or reject it. Now, you can never control another person’s attitudes or actions. You can only do what you can. When you realize that you have done the best you can, you learn to let go and move on. Now, you are not depressed anymore – because you are not suppressing your anger against that person nor are you sad that you have been treated shabbily.

Surely, this approach works in all contexts. The simplest way to snap out of a depressive spiral is to know that, in Life, it is always what it is. People and events are just the way they are. Your wanting them to be different is of no use. Unless people and things change, of their own accord, it is what it is. Period. So, don’t punish yourself trying to bemoan your fate. Get up and move on. Every moment that you are angry, sad and depressed, is a moment you have not lived your Life fully! Think about it. Staying depressed is a complete waste of precious time. And you don’t have much time either!!! As the famous Persian philosopher and poet, Omar Khayyam (1048 ~ 1131) says in his classic, Rubaiyat, “The wine of Life keeps oozing drop by drop; the leaves of Life keep falling one by one.”

To meditate is to learn to live meaningfully all the time

Learning to live in the moment is when you can bring your mind to attend to that moment and not to your worries or your fears.
Whenever I share this perspective with people they immediately equate it to their experiences with meditation which they must have tried at some point or the other. And they quickly conclude that because they do not do meditation anymore, they continue to struggle with their lives. Or there are others who say they struggle despite meditating for an hour daily! 
Conceptually, there is a problem here. You don’t schedule a mediation. It is not a session. You just meditate. Meditation is just mindfulness. Awareness. Alertness. Just being. When you have reached the point of staying in the now, doing whatever you are doing, consciously, then you have begun meditation. It is the ability to be present. Because the present moment is all that you have. Meditation need not be done at a particular time of the day or at a particular venue. It is the continuous, conscious feeling of being in the present. If you are peeling onions, do it with full awareness. Then you are meditating. If you are drawing up an excel sheet and crunching numbers for tomorrow’s meeting, you are meditating. Now, that’s the quality you have to bring into every living moment – which is, immersing yourself in whatever activity you are doing without letting your mind wander. This also applies to tasks you have to do, even though you don’t like doing them much. For example, I don’t like book-keeping and accounts. But I have to do it. There’s no one I have who can help me with that. I postpone it all month. Then, one day, I just do it. Fully. Without hating it. I love it the day I do it. And then I feel liberated. That’s the power of living in meditation.
I learnt this technique through the practice of ‘mouna’ or silence periods. I began by first practicing it at a particular time each day. But over years of practice, now I can slip into ‘mouna’, anywhere, anytime __ even at a busy traffic intersection or in a crowded airport or in a boring meeting. I trigger my awareness by slipping into my ‘mouna’ spells. I choose to be silent at these times and it floods me with a sublime energy instantaneously that helps me see each situation or circumstance in which I am placed with amazing clarity. Often when my mind works up to worrying, my auto-pilot, the ‘mouna’ switch embedded in my mind, gets self-activated and awareness steps in to remind me to let go of my ruinous emotions and focus on the miracle of the moment. To meditate is to learn to live meaningfully all the time.
Here’s a Zen story illustrating the same point. A Japanese warrior was captured by his enemies and thrown into prison. That night he was unable to sleep because he feared that the next day he would be interrogated, tortured, and executed. Then the words of his Zen Master came to him, “Tomorrow is not real. It is an illusion. The only reality is now.” Heeding these words, the warrior became peaceful and fell asleep. Now, many of us will have a problem with this story and its lesson. Some will say, that it is defeatist. Others will say that it is impractical. How can you sleep soundly with an impending catastrophe tomorrow? That really is the problem. When you think of a past that is over, and of a future that is yet to arrive, then, you are really not present in the moment. All your Life’s challenges, fears and insecurities come to torment you only because you are absent from the now. Just learn to do one thing at a time. As an old Japanese saying goes, if you try to catch two rabbits at the same time, you will get none. If you want to worry, worry incessantly. Then don’t aspire for peace. If you want to fear the future, then fear totally. Don’t hope for that fear not to come true. But if you want to be happy, drop the worry, stop fearing and just be. That really is what meditation is all about.