Mindfulness is the key to inner peace.
Today we spent a large part of the morning cleaning up around our home. Vaani and I simply love house-keeping. Indeed, it does make us happy.
In fact, to me, personally, house-keeping, is a meditative practice. It is not a chore. Yes, it does become a challenge when you have to juggle with your other schedules and have to try and fit in quality time for house-keeping. But I have realized that I am very mindful when I am cleaning up around the house. I go about it calmly, methodically and, however physically strenuous it may get at times, I enjoy the process. I love doing the dishes or cleaning surfaces, I invest time to get the toilets to be squeaky clean and generally love the idea of having a dust-free home environment – something that’s so difficult in Indian conditions and so requires being at it continuously, consistently!
I have discovered that when you are mindful of whatever it is that you are doing there’s great inner peace and joy. And no work or task is menial or burdensome as long as you don’t treat it as a chore. In fact, immersion really means being completely involved in, engaged in, and mindful of whatever it is that you are doing. Of course, it is possible that you may not always like to do some things. But when you don’t have a choice – and you have to also do what you dislike doing – if you choose to be mindful, you will get through that task or activity even more efficiently than when you are resisting it.
The Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hahn, a.k.a Thay, says it so beautifully: “In mindfulness one is not only restful and happy, but alert and awake. Meditation is not evasion; it is a serene encounter with reality.” The essence of what he has to say is contained in the last phrase – ‘it is a serene encounter with reality’.
Most of the time, almost all of us, resist our reality. We don’t like what we are going through. Or we dislike what we have to do. Or we are so engrossed in dealing with our ‘extended’ realities that we miss the magic and beauty of everyday living. Thay recommends that we must awaken to the reality in each moment. And not just to be stuck with our ‘extended’ reality. For instance, if you keep worrying about a relationship issue you have, and keep mourning the fact that you are unable to fix it, how will you enjoy a sunrise? So, in this context, your stagnant relationship is your ‘extended’ reality. But the more immediate one is the sunrise. Enjoy it, says Thay, because soon it – the moment bearing the sunrise – will be gone. Meditation is really what the art of living is all about – the ability to value each moment, cherish it, be joyful in it and move on to the next moment with undiluted enthusiasm.
How can you enjoy a moment when it is painful, you may wonder? What if someone is dead? What if someone’s betrayed you? How will you cope with a moment when you are wishing it away? That’s why Thay prescribes a ‘serene encounter with reality’ – he says, don’t resist, don’t fight, instead accept, what is. Accepting what is, is the best way to inner peace. When you accept your reality, you begin to experience joy in the moment.
The human mind is like the human body. It can be trained. I have trained my mind by practicing both silence periods (mouna) and mindfulness – immersing myself in what I do. Over time, I have learnt to banish worry (despite the daunting circumstances my family and I are faced with; read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal.) and just be in the moment. Often time, cleaning around my house gives me that sense of equanimity. Through my own experience I know that if you immerse yourself in whatever you do, you too can be happy, despite the circumstances!
To live meaningfully in each moment is a gift you can give yourself!
A young man wanted to know what meditation is. And I told him this story from my Life.
Some months ago we were in the throes a legal quagmire. A matter in the court was reaching its logical culmination. A judgment against us was to be pronounced the next day. After we came home from our lawyer’s office, Vaani and I reviewed the options before us. There, in fact, was only one option – to go with the court’s decree; which would necessarily mean that a slew of dreadful actions would now be initiated against us. (This court matter is one of many that we face as part of a numbing bankruptcy we are dealing with. Read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal)
At dinner, I turned on the TV. Our favourite music program was playing on Sony Mix – Raina Beeti Jaaye. That evening they were playing R.D.Burman’s compositions. It was a magical hour we spent singing along with whatever songs played on our TV. And then we went to sleep. We both slept very well.
This, I told the young man, is meditation.
He was shocked. He wondered if we were not abdicating our responsibilities, choosing to enjoy music and going to sleep, when a serious threat loomed large over our Life the next morning.
I clarified to the young man what I have understood about meditation. Learning to live in the moment is meditation – when you can bring your mind to attend to that moment and not to your guilt, grief, worries or fears.
Whenever I share this story and the learning it offers with people, they often don’t believe this is practical – this ability to meditate in the moment, to postpone worry and fear and to focus on the present. 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 to live this way through the daily 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. You can gift yourself this learning too.
Now, it is possible some people will have a problem with my 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? Such thinking 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.
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Think abundance and you will be happy! Think scarcity and you will run scared!!
A friend posted on Facebook that she did not like the ‘spiritual energy’ in her new house. She bought this one less than a year ago and has tastefully, passionately, done it up. Prior to this, she has changed as many houses in under 10 years complaining of ghosts, tantriks and pesky neighbors in most places and even of a lecherous landlord in one. So, I am not surprised that she is complaining of her new residence now. While I don’t want to discount her experiences by judging them, I genuinely feel sorry for her. Sometimes, Life does put you in a spot when you imagine that the whole world is conspiring to ruin your happiness and inner peace. Famously, Bollywood star Parveen Babi (1949~2005) lived the last years of her Life imagining so. I have lived this way too for a while. It wasn’t until I realized that no one or nothing can affect your inner peace unless you let them to, unless you give them permission, that I arrested my downward spiral towards being delusional.
People are people. They will do what they want. And you have to do what you want to and believe in. Events are events. They will keep on happening in your Life. The more you imagine that people and events are against you, the more you will see Life from a scarcity, fear and anxiety point of view. Then you are not living freely, fully and happily. You are running scared and are fearing Life. How can you experience inner peace when you are filled with negative and anxious thoughts?
Let me explain this using an analogy that is relevant today, given that it is Diwali! Everyone is busy asking the other, at least in Tamil Nadu, whether they have finished their ‘auspicious Ganga snanam’. A dip in the Ganga is believed, per ancient Indian folklore and mythology, to purify one of their sins and past karma. To dispel this myth, a Master once sent a bitter gourd fruit with his disciples to be dipped in Ganga. When the disciples came back from their bath in the Ganga, he asked them if they had dipped the bitter gourd too. When they nodded in affirmation, he asked them if the bitter gourd would have lost its bitterness. The disciples laughed at their Master. How can bitter gourd lose its bitterness just because it has been dipped in the Ganga, they wondered. The Master smiled back and asked them how they then believed that a human being can be rid of her or his sins, or past karma, by bathing in the Ganga? The disciples got the message – loud and clear! Interestingly, that question applies to all our lives; and I hope we too are picking up that message!
I have come to realize that there’s no point in wondering if anything is sinful or not, there’s no point in trying to study past karma and its implications on this Life or on a future one, there’s no point in reviewing, or stressing over, anything that’s not in your control. Instead live each moment fully, happily. The human mind thinks up 60,000 thoughts daily. Most of these thoughts are invested in worry, fear, insecurity, anxiety, guilt, grief, anger, jealousy or hatred, and in similar debilitating emotions. Instead, through any meditative practice, if you can focus a majority of your 60,000 thoughts daily on being happy, with whatever is, on being grateful for what you have, you will find that no one, or nothing, can ever affect you or disturb your inner peace. In every sense therefore, more than Ganga snanam, or a homam, or Vaastu or Feng Shui or Numerology (as in my friend’s context) a meditative, reflective practice daily of being thankful is what can curate and uplift your spiritual energy. Simply, the key to unlocking your spiritual energy lies in thinking abundance, being happy – and grateful!
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