Install a worry-check gateway, keep the worry virus out!

Worry is like a virus. It will arise. You can’t stop it from arising in you. But you avoid being led by it!

Yesterday, while copying some files from someone else’s computer via a pendrive, both my pendrive and laptop got infected. Luckily the person who I was with is a geek. And he noticed the infection in a nano-second. But it took him quite a while to fix both his own machine and mine. He told me that the only way to deal with viruses is to be “extra vigilant”. “Don’t trust any source,” he said, adding, “Just install a gateway check before you allow any data into your system – via email, internet or offline transfers.”
What the gentleman suggests as a possible method to keep out computer viruses, applies to our lives as well. Most of us are, subconsciously, constantly, worrying. We are led by our worrying. From relationships to our children to our finances to health to careers to the state of our countries and world, we worry about anything and everything. Now there’s no logic or pre-qualification required for worrying. The human mind thinks 60,000 thoughts a day. And if unchecked, if untrained, the mind simply keeps spewing worrisome thoughts among several other debilitating ones like anger, grief, guilt, fear and such. So a worry is like a wave in the ocean. If there is an ocean, waves will arise. If there is a mind, a worry will arise. But you have to realize that you have the ability to prevent that worry from affecting you. You may be touched by the worry, but you can choose to be unaffected. Being able to do this consistently is what intelligent living is all about.
One way to be untouched by a worry is to simply postpone it. Most of us do just the opposite. We miss the beauty and magic of living in the moment by postponing living, by postponing happiness. We indulge in worrying almost 24×7. Instead try postponing worrying for a change. Let’s say, you have to pay a bill and you don’t have money. A worry arises dramatizing the consequences of being unable to pay that bill. Just postpone the worrying and instead focus on what you can do, within your means, with your abilities, to earn the money to pay the bill. Simple. And if you can’t pay the bill, on the D-date, well, face the reality then. How could worrying have ever helped you pay off the bill? Think about it!
The other way to deal with worry is to practise ignoring it. When it arises, just ignore it. Your ability to ignore worry will be honed when you consistently remind your mind that worrying is of no use. Truly, no situation in your Life, or even in the world for that matter, can be solved by worrying. Only concerted, focused action leads us to solutions. So why worry? When worry arrives, ignore it.

So, install a worry-check gateway in your mind. Keep the worry virus out. Postpone worrying to start with. And you will instantly, magically, start enjoying the moment. This ability to enjoy what is, is happiness! 

Move from the mind into the moment

Where there is uncertainty, there will be creativity and progress. Where you seek certainty, you will be held hostage by fear, anxiety, stress and suffering.
Not knowing what comes next is what makes Life a wonderful adventure sport. Just like you wouldn’t want to spoil the fun by knowing the plot of a movie in advance from friends or by reading a review, don’t try to pre-suppose or find out what Life will deal you next. Just dive into each moment, each day, with total readiness to meet__head-on__whatever comes next.
Erich Fromm, German-born American philosopher (1900-1980), says, “The quest for certainty blocks the search for meaning. Uncertainty is the very condition to impel man to unfold his powers.”

Where there is acceptance of uncertainty, there will be a paradoxical sense of security and peace within. So, the best attitude to take into each moment of Life is innocence, a child-like view of seeing the Universe with amazement, surprise and being accepting of whatever happens. Allow the uncertain future, which will nonetheless unfold, to take you into its embrace and to soak your soul in adventure. Enjoy uncertainty. Welcome whatever happens gleefully. Move from the mind__so stop rationalizing and analyzing each development__into the moment__simply living each one fully, blissfully!

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! 

Nothing’s worth losing sleep over

At times when nothing works, a good sleep works best!
This past week, a challenge that I am faced with, has had me working overtime with our lawyers. It involves a lot of paperwork and preparing a case. Often times, I have woken up in the wee hours to deal with it. So, in a sense, I have been short on the hours of sleep that I normally get. The apartment above ours is going through a complete renovation. All day the workers are knocking away at the floor, ostensibly to remove all the tiles in an effort to re-lay them. The noise from the floor above is deafening and allows no room for even a few minutes of rest and repair during the day. Overall, it has been a very demanding week. That’s when I got a window today – around mid-morning,  having completed all the documentation I had to on the legal front, to take a break. But the workers were pounding away above me. I wanted to somehow just catch up on my sleep. I decided to shut out the noise by reminding my mind that I did not hear it (a principle I have mastered through the practice of “mouna” – daily silence periods). In a few minutes of continuously directing my mind, the noise levels became irrelevant. And I fell asleep. I slept for a good four hours, soundly, uninterrupted, and woke up recharged and refreshed.
Nothing works like sleep. Nothing quite rejuvenates the way it does. Nothing fills your soul with confidence and conviction more than a few hours of sleep!
I have often found that the first casualty of any Life challenge is sleep. Sometimes, the lack of sleep in your Life is not just because of work pressure. But because you are worried, anxious and are despairing over a situation that you are clueless about. Your mind will kid you in such circumstances to stay up without sleep in the hope that you can find a solution to whatever vexes you. Staying up for a few nights to finish assignments and meet deadlines is fine. But inability to sleep because of worry is a no-no. It simply doesn’t help. Sleep deprivation in fact compounds matters. It makes you weak and fatigued. How can you address your Life challenge when, at a physical level, you remain exhausted and spent? So, the golden rule of intelligent living is to not let anything come between you and your sleep cycle.
If for a few days your sleep is interrupted owing to travel or work pressure or a crisis you have to deal with, restore your usual sleep pattern at the earliest opportunity. Ideally, set your worries aside as you put head to pillow. People tell me that this is difficult. I do agree. Initially, even when you close your eyes, your mind is hyper-active and is going bang-bang-bang throwing up all your worries and playing up all your fears and insecurities. But the clothes peg approach works great here. Imagine you have a clothes peg next to your bed. Before you sleep, you will probably remove your day clothes and hang them on the clothes peg. You will then wear your night clothes and hit the bed. Do the same with your worries. Hang them on an imaginary peg. Don’t worry about your worries – they will go nowhere. When you wake up in the morning, you can take them back. Train your mind, with consistent practice of the clothes peg approach over a few days, and be sure, you will begin to sleep well. Very well.
Good sleep cannot solve your problems. Nor does worrying! But sleep helps – where worrying can never help – in recharging all your batteries so that you can face Life and take on your problems with renewed vigor and enthusiasm. Ernest Hemingway (1899~1961), the legendary American author, champions good sleep thus: “I love sleep. My Life has the tendency to fall apart when I’m awake, you see?” The big moral here: It’s not worth losing your sleep over anything!

Make your mind your BFF

Your mind can be your best friend. So, don’t try to conquer it. Befriend it. Have conversations with it. Reason with it. Debate with it! Laugh with it! Train it!

There’s a story I remember reading that’s pretty interesting. A sage was offering his prayers and was in a penance when a very pretty lady walked past. He got distracted, opened his eyes, saw her 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 her jasmine flowers 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 intentions being right and his making valiant efforts, he could still ‘feel’ her presence 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 remember: you can and must never try to 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 un-evolved 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! It thrives in these conditions. When you are being led by your mind, it is your master. You just keep following it – through worry, anxiety, insecurity, fear, anger, guilt, sorrow, grief….! While you may not be able to conquer your mind, you surely can train it to be powerless. The mind is powerless only in the present moment. Once you learn to simply be present in the here and now, you will be able to direct – not necessarily control – your mind. Then your ‘best friend’ acts in your interest always – and never mindlessly!

From Mind to “No Mind”

Sometimes, just deluged with challenges, you think Life is a series of endless problems. But did you know that all your problems can be solved in a nanosecond? Just stop thinking of them as problems!!! 
There are no problems in Life. Really. There are merely Life situations – like a health challenge, a natural disaster, death of a loved one and failure with career or business or relationships despite all the integrity and effort. But a Life situation is labelled as a problem by the human mind. The mind keeps on churning out thoughts that look at Life situations or events and label them good or bad. We label an event or situation as bad when what has happened is not what we expected or thought we deserved. So, in effect, problems are caused by our thinking, by the mind. Which means if the mind took events and made them look and feel like problems, the same mind can get rid of the problems!
In a very theoretical way, if you can get rid of the mind, you can be free of problems. But this is not wordsmithing or spiritual theory alone. At one level, there is no mind. Mind is an imagination. There are only thoughts, 60,000 of them precisely (as proven by research), that arise within you each day. These are random, often disconnected, individual thoughts. When seen together they create the illusion of the mind. But really they are stand-alone thoughts. Think of this deeply. Someone you love dies. Now, a thought arises in you that says you cannot live without this person. So, you are plunged in grief. But what if this thought did not arise at all? What if the death was seen only as part of the cyclical Life pattern of birth and death? Or you lose your job. A thought in your mind tells you that without a job you will suffer because you will not have money to survive. But were you born with a job or money? What if you can reason out that you can survive the same way as you did when you were a child? Will you then be afraid and fearful of losing that job? So, if you examine Life closely, through these two example situations or through any other that you have encountered, you will find that death or job-loss or whatever else are mere events. The mind, the thoughts that arose within you, has made these events look and feel monstrous. Your mind, clearly, created your problems. Surely, if you had a way of ridding yourself of these thoughts, would you be tormented by these events at all?
So, the key to free yourself from your problems is to develop a temperament to distil your thoughts. You can’t not have thoughts. But you can surely develop the awareness, the discerning ability that reminds you, every step of your way, each time a debilitating thought arises, that Life is not a series of problems. It is just a series of events. Events get labelled as problems by your thinking. If you can remind yourself consistently to take each event, each moment as it comes, then your thoughts become insignificant and powerless. This is the state when there is “no mind” – it has become irrelevant, if not completely defunct! That is when you realize inner peace!

To the MAESTRO called YOU…

Sachin Tendulkar has finally announced his retirement from the game that made him God! While there are people who are still awestruck by his legend, there are others, his admirers-turned-critics, who opine that he should have quit the game at his peak – which was a few years ago. Sachin himself explains his rationale for continuing to play well past his prime in his statement, issued by the BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India), yesterday. He says: It’s hard for me to imagine a Life without playing cricket because it’s all I have ever done since I was 11 years old.
I would like to share what I have learned, so far, from Sachin’s Life. Each of us has three questions to answer and three circles to fill in Life:
  •      What can you be best at in the world? – What’s your innate talent?
  •      What are you deeply passionate about? – What keeps you excited about living?
  •    What drives your economic engine? – What earns you money?

When you answer these questions and fill the circles with your answers, the one vocation – or answer – that leads to the convergence of these three circles is your inner core of joy, your bliss. When you follow your bliss, you too will become a world-leader and world-beater, and consequentially wealthy too, in your chosen field. Of course, the time it takes to reach that pinnacle of greatness varies from individual to individual – it is often a direct correlation between effort, the time the individual is passing through, and the larger, unfathomable, cosmic design. But one thing is for sure: if you have identified that one vocation, which led to the convergence of these three circles in your Life, your bliss that is, you will always be happy doing what you have chosen to do – even though your financial success make take time coming. They key is to keep following your bliss, as Joseph Campbell (1904~1987), the American thinker and writer, famously said, knowing that doors will soon open where only walls existed. The difference between people who have identified their bliss and those who go on to become Gods, legends in their chosen fields, lies in the following. When you follow your heart, your  bliss, no matter what, you will arrive where you truly must and deserve to be! Important, focus only on your bliss, while following it, and not on becoming great! Greatness follows when you truly follow your bliss! (Just to clarify: the concept of these three circles was first presented by Management Guru Jim Collins in the context of helping organizations derive their Core Purpose. But I have found it extremely relevant in the case of individuals too – after all, people make organizations tick!)
Osho, the Master, has explained following your bliss beautifully. He says when you do what you love doing, when the doer becomes the deed, for instance, when the dancer becomes the dance or when the player becomes the game, magic happens. That’s when the Universal, cosmic, energy is flowing through you. The actor and the action are in unison then. That’s what the world calls genius, greatness. That’s how ordinary people become maestros. Did you not see that magic in Sachin – then, and don’t you not see it even now, when he is on a song? Sunil Gavaskar, the legend himself, said this of Sachin Tendulkar when talking to India Today, a couple of years ago: “The secret of Sachin’s longevity in the game lies in his joy. His mind, body, soul – all three are in a state of perpetual joy when he’s playing!”
To reach your own state of perpetual joy, you need to only shift your attention from your economic engine circle to the other two circles – concerning your talent and passion – in your Life. Then you too will be soaked in bliss and will be able to uncork the magic within you! Here’s then, cheers, to the MAESTRO called YOU!

To tune into Life, simply move on!

No matter what, Life simply goes on!
Life is programmed to go on. Something terrible happens to you. You lose your job or a lot of money or someone you love. You are in shock. You are numbed. But Life goes on. You struggle for a while with your new reality. But over time – could be a few hours, months or even years – eventually, you find your rhythm back with Life. And you too move on – because there’s no other way forward!
To be sure, it’s perfectly alright to move on. Because that’s what Life is all about – it is like a river, never-stopping, ever flowing. You find yourself lost or searching for meaning or feel incomplete because you are held hostage by your mind. Here’s a little secret – you don’t need your mind to live! Seriously. When you are present in the moment, in the now, there is no mind involved. The human mind only thrives in the past – clinging on to memories – or in the future – going on worrying about things that really have not happened!
Understand that the mind and Life can never be in sync. They don’t tango at all. This explains why we all suffer when faced with pain or have to deal with uncomfortable situations in Life. Let’s say someone you love is dead. By the time you confirm the person’s death, a new moment has arrived. In that moment, there’s just you. Not that person. There’s nothing wrong with that moment per se. It is just a new reality that going forward in Life it is just you. So the moment, the new reality, is not capable of causing you any suffering. However, your mind is fully capable of causing you agony, distress, grief and suffering. It will go on reminding you that the person you love isn’t there. And through that incessant reminding you wallow in grief, wondering how beautiful Life would have been had this person not died at all. Or you may spend time worrying about how fearful the future looks without this person for company. The truth is that even your present is beautiful and so may be your future – surely, you can never say it will be otherwise because it has not even arrived! When you recognize that it is always your mind working up your grief or drumming up your fears, you learn to appreciate the present and to actually move on!
To live Life fully, you have to learn to stop getting stuck with the past or fear the future – essentially stop allowing the mind to lead you – and simply flow with Life, moving on from one new moment to another! When you are not controlled by your mind, when you are present in the moment, you are in tune with Life. Then you see the magic and beauty in every moment. And you experience bliss!

Happiness is where awareness is

Is it really possible to be happy despiteyour circumstances?

Some years back, a factory hand in Pune, who was attending a workshop on “Taking the elevator to Happiness” that I was leading, made a profound remark. He said: Bhaashan se Raashan nahin bharta, Sahib!” (Sir, ‘philosophical’ speeches can’t help us buy groceries/rations to run the household.” Indeed, he is right. Understanding Life better cannot solve your problems. You still have to work hard, and consistently, on them. But what a better understanding can do is help you deal with Life’s vagaries better. More important, help you deal with them peacefully, happily!
Surely, there is no set way to live Life – so no way can be called right or wrong. Living Life completely – facing, accepting and dealing with what you are given – is the way! This is what I have learned from Zen teachings. Zen is not a philosophy. Because philosophy still operates at a mind level. And Zen goes beyond the mind. Zen draws you out of the mind, further, higher. So, when confronted with Life’s inscrutable challenges, you are invited to experience them fully, while learning to transcend them over a period of time – by training the mind – to be able to reach a ‘witness’ stage, to be merely an observer of your own Life. This does not mean inaction. This is a lot of action, a lot of hard work. Obviously, when you try to address a challenge you are facing, you work on finding a solution. If the solution works, great. When the solution doesn’t work, what do you do? You get angry, frustrated, sad, fearful – Zen teaches you to get past these debilitating emotions, understand that these, like Life itself, are transient, and experience the true nature of your creation.
Zen is awareness. Of just the present moment. Being aware does not mean a past hurt, guilt or memory will not rise in the mind. It does not also mean that a worry, of something that is likely to happen in the future, will not arise in the mind. The nature of the mind is that it can only live in the past or the future. The mind knows no present. And Zen teaches you to transcend the mind, go past its treacherous ways, and anchor yourself in the present. In the now.
This is what happens to us when we are in nature’s lap. Each of us must have experienced that rare moment of completely losing ourselves to an ocean’s vastness or a mountains majestic beauty. Or sometimes losing ourselves to an art form that we cherish – like painting, cooking, music or writing. In those rare moments, you have lost your identity as so-and-so, with such-and-such problems, and have united with the Universal energy. Zen teaches you that this is possible in everyday Life too! Which is why, when a Zen Master was asked, “What is Zen?”, he replied: “Chopping Wood, Carrying Water”. These were everyday chores, even for a Master, in those days. And the import is that you have to be “immersed” in whatever you are doing in that moment without letting your mind wander into the past or the future. So, irrespective of what you are doing – or going through – be in it fully.
My experience is that you can be in the throes of a challenge and still be happy if you choose to be. Owing to our bankruptcy, and an inexplicable set of professional challenges, we have a lot of debt on us as a family, and absolute cashless-ness at most times. It is not that I don’t feel responsible or that I don’t recognize the enormity of the task ahead – of rebuilding our business and repaying our creditors – of us. It is not that fear and insecurity – or even the guilt of having caused this financial mess – do not arise in my mind. But my awareness helps me gets past those thoughts, and helps me take actions that I must take every single moment, each day. When my actions don’t bear fruit – as they haven’t over several months – my awareness again helps me stay anchored and get past the grief that failure often brings with it. I sleep well each night and wake up the next day to do another round of ‘chopping wood and carrying water’.
I am not sure I am “successful” with Life, but surely, I am peaceful living it! This may not be the only way to live. This may not even be the best way – may well be contestable, arguable and even admonishable. But it has helped me__and my wife__stay anchored and peaceful through tumultuous times and has taught us to be happy despiteour circumstances.