Of a Priest, Prayer, God and Job Security

Does prayer really work? Does it lead you to God? Does it solve your problems?
I guess these are questions that often rise in our minds at a deeply rational, logical level. But I have come to believe that the questions are misplaced! The question we really 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 still 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 security?
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, and respect, 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 to make you realize your God!

You will then find God in this blessing__that you have to access Facebook and are able to read a post. You will then find God when you feel the air in your lungs. You will the find God in the sunrises and sunsets that happen outside your window every single day without fail. You will then 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 then find God in every form of creation that you connect with. You will then 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 your God! 

Don’t churn the past or the future – just let it all be

The human mind is powerless in the present moment. That’s why it insists on dragging you back to the past or into the future.

An important and fundamental clarity we must all have is over the functioning of the human mind. It thrives in the dead past – spewing thoughts of anger, grief, guilt over what has happened. And it thrives in the still unborn, unknown future – throwing anxiety, worry and fear over what may (or may not) happen. So, as long as the mind is controlling you, you are oscillating between the past and the future. The mind never allows you to settle. Such is its nature. 60,000 thoughts arise daily and all of them invariably dwell in the past or concern the future. This is why we often feel chewed up and are desperate for clarity. And this is where mindfulness comes in. When you are mindful of the present moment, immersing yourself in your current reality, your mind is powerless. When your mind is not controlling you, and when you are directing it instead to be in the present, there can neither be grief or guilt nor can there be worry or fear.
Once you understand this basic concept about intelligent living, you can begin the practise of mindfulness. It requires that you train your mind. And the principle to remember is that just like the human body can be trained, the human mind can be trained too. Mindfulness begins when you stop churning the past or the future in your mind. Just let it all be. You focus only on what is, on what is available, in the present moment. It may be difficult – as is the case with any new practice – but if you keep at it, you will make progress. Surely, over 21 days of daily practise, you can learn to be mindful.
I love what the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh has to say about mindfulness. He says it so simply, so beautifully: “To be mindful is to bring body and mind back to the present moment so that you do not miss your appointment with life.”

To un-depress yourself is a personal choice

When you are depressed give your depression your fullest attention. Only then will you realize how futile it is to be depressed. 

Depression arises when things don’t go the way you want them to go. And depression does not necessarily mean that you will sulk. Chances are you may, like the way I once was, rave and rant. When I met a psychiatrist, under my wife’s advice, after several bouts of uncontrollable anger, years ago, he told me this: “You have depression. You can take drugs. Or you can heal yourself by practicing yoga or meditation. When you see Life clearly, and understand it, you will not be depressed.” I chose not to take medication for my depressive state and instead practiced mouna (a daily silence period) which helped me awaken to the opportunity and abundance in my Life.
From my own experience this is what I have learnt – it is normal to be depressed. So, don’t fear it. Don’t hide it. Don’t run away from it. Accept it and give it attention. When you do this, it will slink away the same way that it came!
When you understand the cause for your depression, you will realize that you cannot get rid of the cause merely by brooding. You need to act. By sulking and smarting under the burden of your negative thinking, you are going to stay snowed under – forever! To break free and climb out of your dark, black, hole, you must know that while depression cannot be avoided, staying depressed can surely be avoided. I ask myself the following questions when I am depressed: 1. What is causing my depression? 2. Can I eradicate the cause of my depression by continuing to feel depressed? 3. What must I do then to remove the source of my depression? I then go down to work on removing that source. I don’t succeed in immediately getting rid of the source in some cases, but at least, I don’t stay depressed.
Try applying those three questions in your Life contexts too. You are sure to see remarkable results! To break-free from depression is a personal choice. You can un-depress yourself anytime you are depressed – provided you are ready and willing.

Look up from your ‘busyness’ to see the beauty in each moment

Stand, stare, pause, reflect…slow down and soak in Life. Don’t keep running, with no time to stop and smell the roses, as if Life were a race.
Hari and his friend
Yesterday, on our morning walk we saw a milkman feeding a stray cat. We paused and asked him why he was doing that. He beamed a big smile, said hello, introduced himself as Hari, and explained, “I just found her hanging around this neighborhood everyday as I made my deliveries. One day I offered her some milk. And since then we have become good friends. She comes by whenever I am here. I enjoy seeing her and feeding her. Poor thing, all she needs is some care and milk!”
Hari’s random act of kindness is so inspiring. It made me think. How often do we do something like that – which is to pause and care for someone who does not have anything to offer us in return?
Further down our walking route, my wife Vaani, an ardent lover of nature, birds, flowers and, in fact, of Life itself, pointed to a tall tree and its fall colors. I looked up, Indeed the patterns that the morning light was weaving through the leaves uplifted their colors. Vaani, who schooled at Rishi Valley, where her parents were teachers, said J.Krishnamurti (the philosopher who lived between 1895 and 1986; he founded the Rishi Valley School and The Krishnamurti Foundation) taught her, and her sister, “the value of mindfulness and observation”.
It’s been 28 years since I have known Vaani. Initially, I could never understand why she always got so excited when she saw a tree or a bird or a flower. But over the last decade or so, ever since I was forcibly evicted from the rat race – thankfully, mercifully – I have also learned to pause, observe and reflect. I have learnt to appreciate Life better by slowing down. There’s great beauty in each moment, I realize now, provided you look up from your ‘busyness’!  
Besides, beneath all the chaos and grime that hold a big city in a stranglehold, there are still ordinary folks like Hari who teach us how to be compassionate and there are people like Vaani who remind us that it is possible to find beauty in the most unexpected of places.

The greatest wealth in Life is be able to enjoy the gift of this lifetime. In trying harder to run faster to get to a destination you think is your ultimate one, you are missing out on the scenery and the opportunity that each moment is offering you. I am reminded of W.H.Davies’ (1871 ~ 1940) poem Leisure. What he wrote back then is still so, so, relevant: “A poor Life this if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.”

Slow down when Life slows you down

There are times in Life when the journey may become awfully slow. That’s really the time that Life is offering us to enjoy the scenery. But we don’t have the attitude to see it that way. Instead we are obsessed with the painful pace and miss the magic and beauty in our lives.
The problem lies with the way we have led our lives so far. Running from event to event, crisis to crisis, trying to make ends meet, earning a living, busy working harder than ever before, meeting targets, paying bills, raising children and doing everything else except living__mindfully. And then as often happens with Life, the game changes. We are put in a spot where we cannot move; we are check-mated, if you like. It could be a health issue, it could be a career stalemate, it could be a bankruptcy, it could be a relationship tangle or it could be a legal quagmire. In such times, there may be a tendency to worry and to wish__pray, plead, hope__that why can’t Life fast-forward, why can’t we get back to ‘normalcy’? So, if you are bogged down in an ICU, you wish you could be back in the hustle-bustle of everyday Life. Or if you are caught in the midst of legalese, you just are hoping why don’t you win all your claims and are free to be away from all this disputing and arguing. Interestingly, Life’s not a handmaiden that will do what you please. It just may not move.
Know also that there is no fast-forward button on Life’s remote. So, when you are pushed to a corner by the cosmic design, the best thing to do is to not worry about not moving or crib about being between a rock and a hard place. Be happy you can breathe. Because being able to sense your breathing is normal. Running so hard that you don’t even have the time to notice you are breathing, is notnormal. Imagine you are climbing a steep mountain in a vehicle. As it negotiates the sharp hair-pin bends, the engine is finding the going tough. So, the vehicle is down to an agonizing crawl. Now, you can worry about that pace and concentrate on the dreary drone of the engine, or you can look out the window and see what the scenery looks like. This is what enjoying the scenery is all about.
“Smile, breathe and go slowly,” advises Thich Nhat Hanh (called ‘Thay’), a Vietnamese Buddhist monk. “Sometimes your joy can be the cause for your smile, and sometimes, your smile can be the cause for your joy,” he adds. Just being mindful of your being alive__to experiencing whatever you are going through, be it pain, be it joy__is what can make the slowdowns in Life more meaningful. Do all the things that you can joyfully in whatever state you find yourself. And don’t worry about what you can’t. If you are immobilized by a health issue enjoy the ‘grounding’ with a family member who is nursing you; pining to be able to run around will only cause agony. If you are cashless enjoy being able to live without money; hoping you had money will only aggravate your suffering. If you are caught in a relationship problem where there is much misunderstanding, enjoy practicing patience and forgiveness; craving for understanding from the other person may only accentuate your pain. Thay champions mindful living as a cure to all our ailments coming from merely existing. “Life is available only in the present moment. Even drink your tea, slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world, the earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future,” he says.
Slow down when Life slows you down. It is perhaps with ample reason that this message arrives on a Monday morning. To make a Manic Monday a Mindful Monday is your personal choice. It is only when you go with Life’s pace and flow, do you truly experience the magic in and live each moment!

Managing stress is just a mind game!!

A simple way to beat stress and bring peace and order to your daily Life: at all times, irrespective of what the circumstance may be, do what is important and do it very well.
There are always tens of things to be done on a daily basis. Some of these things are routine stuff like driving yourself to work or checking your mail. Or doing the dishes or dropping the kids off to school. In between these kind of tasks we often get rude shocks, unexpected events that need to be attended to urgently__a flat tyre, a sudden visitor at work or at home, a distress call from a friend or an urgent customer situation. And then there are the important stuff to be handled: presentation on new market strategy at work, college admission forms to be filled in for your older one, a gym routine that you have to keep up and the re-tiling of your entire kitchen floor. Mondays ~ Sundays, this story of frenzied living plays itself out, week after week. The routines, the emergencies, the important, unavoidable, non-negotiable stuff may keep changing the way it may surface in our lives, but their nature is the same. Their nature is to bring stress. To put us in a permanent pressure cooker state. Leaving us cooked completely!
So, where’s the room to live intelligently, you may wonder? There sure is: Listen to stress therapist and thinker Danzae Pace: “Stress is the trash of modern Life – we all generate it but if you don’t dispose of it properly, it will pile up and overtake your Life.” The way to dispose of stress is to continuously be mindful of what you do. Each day, do only one or two important tasks. Don’t crowd your days. And know, be aware, that each day will have to have its share of routine tasks, however mundane they may be, and again, each day will throw up its share unexpected events, meetings and twists. When you are aware and mindful of each moment, focusing on one activity at a time, your stress levels are easily managed. Stress may still rear its ugly head, every time an unplanned event surfaces, but your mindfulness helps you respond to it intelligently than react to it violently! Know that your Life’s Inbox will never be empty. There will be newer tasks and newer shocks always coming your way. The best way to live your daily Life is to not constantly think too far ahead. Within a day’s schedules, look at what’s most important and do it well, in that day’s circumstance or situation. If you had an important business meeting planned for the afternoon, but at lunch time if you got a call saying your father’s been taken to hospital, focus on being at the hospital, fully mindful to your prayerful presence there. Don’t focus on losing that important business deal or not meeting your targets for the month. Focus instead on the routine tasks of having a friend pick up your kids’ from school or even catching up on some sleep.
There are no techniques to manage stress. It is just a mind game. Close or minimize one window of your mind and open another to work on the given circumstance. But whatever you choose to do, do it well. Do it in peace. The intelligent living perspective is to live well, and live really well, till the end, whenever it arrives!

Be mindful: have a ‘serene encounter with reality’!

Whatever you do, do it with total immersion. Enjoy the process of doing what you are doing. That’s called mindfulness. And that’s the key to inner peace.
Doing the dishes, to me, is a meditative practice
Yesterday my daughter, a psychology graduate, caught me dusting a thin layer of dust on top of a cupboard in our kitchen. She quipped, “Dad, cleaning around the house makes you happy, doesn’t it?” I smiled at her. And confessed that indeed it does make me happy. In fact, to me, 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 your fourth stage cancer and the fact that you will soon die, how will you enjoy a sunrise? So, in this context, your cancer 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 gain 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 owing to our grave financial state) 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, enjoying the process of doing it, being always mindful, you too can be happy, despite the circumstances!

Making progress, while just being…

‘Just Being’ does not retard or impair progress. ‘Just Being’ ISprogress.
Many of us see ‘just being’ as inaction. And so imagine that it will breed inertia and make us vegetables. We find logic in this argument and so we feel that staying busy is important. You can be running on a treadmill and you could still be in the same place. Staying busy is just that. It doesn’t get you anywhere. ‘Just Being’, on the other hand, does not mean inaction. It means:
1.     Being in the moment, engaged, mindful. Thoroughly involved. Which is a LOT of action.
2.   Being involved with also DOING what is possible, what is right and doing it well, in that moment, and yet BEING DETACHED from the outcome.
When 1 and 2 are happening simultaneously, where’s the question of passivity or inertia or remaining grounded? You are in flight! You are soaring. Despite the storm, despite the chaos, your sails are filled with grace, energy and momentum!
Vietnamese Buddhist guru Thich Nhat Hanh teaches this so well. He calls ‘Just Being’ non-action, not inaction. “Sometimes if we don’t do anything, we can help more than if we do a lot. We call that non-action. It is like the calm person on a small boat in a storm. That person does not have to do much, just to be himself, and the situation can change,” he says. His prescription for ‘just being’ is mindfulness. He describes it thus: “Mindfulness is our ability to be aware of what is going on both inside us and around us. It is the continuous awareness of our bodies, emotions, and thoughts. Through mindfulness, we avoid harming ourselves and others, and we can work wonders. If we live mindfully in everyday life, walk mindfully, are full of love and caring, then we create a miracle and transform the world into a wonderful place. The object of your mindfulness can be anything. You can look at the sky and breathe in and say, ‘Breathing in, I’m aware of the blue sky.’ So you are mindful of the blue sky. The blue sky becomes the object of your mindfulness. ‘Breathing out, I smile to the blue sky.’ Smiling is another kind of practice. First of all, you recognize the blue sky as existing. And if you continue the practice, you will see that the blue sky is wonderful. It may be that you’ve lived thirty or forty years but you have never seen and touched the blue sky that deeply.”

The Chinese character for mindfulness, nian, (pictured here), reveals its meaning. The upper part of the character means ‘now’ and the lower part means ‘heart’. Literally, the combined character means the act of experiencing the present moment with your heart or ‘Just Being’. Just Being’ connects you to the source of your creation, helps you drop anchor and find bliss in whatever you do, wherever you are!

Being POPO-ed is a dimension of Life that you have to live with

POPO: Pissed On and Passed Over!
This often happens to all of us in Life. And leaves us frustrated, fuming, feeling negative and vengeful. So, when this happens to you, or if it is happening to you just now, take it easy. You are not the only one. We are all POPO-ed__one way or the other. When this happens in a relationship, you feel like a used paper tissue. And the grief of having been taken for a ride, taken for granted, takes a long, long time to heal. At work, it leaves you disenchanted and grumpy. You sulk. You stop putting in your best and reason with yourself asking ‘what’s the use?’
But here’s a different take. When POPO-ed don’t do the normal. Don’t grieve. Don’t sulk. Don’t give up on the individual. Instead keep giving your 100 %. Grieving, sulking, bad-mouthing and cold-shouldering are acts of cowardice. Fight the injustice but with love, with mindfulness, by serving. In fact, whatever happens in Life, happens because it was meant to be so. If someone got promoted, that person perhaps deserved it. But in your eyes, you deserved it more. Instead of saying ‘hey, this is unfair’ respond with ‘how could I have served better so that I could have got it.’ This whole idea of deserving must be preceded by serving. Serve to deserve. And even then if you don’t get what you think was truly yours, live in the acceptance of that verdict. This is what will help you retain your sanity, stay anchored and keep moving on.
When we get caught in the cesspool of negative energy, resentment, anger and vengefulness, we are hurting ourselves. We must be selfish here. If someone pissed on you, trampled on you, let you down, they did it because they wanted to hurt you. And you will be, by being angry with them, by carrying vengeance and hatred in your heart, allowing them to succeed. If someone overlooked you and gave another what must have truly come to you__a job, a raise, a promotion, a gift, a compliment, a reward, whatever__understand that this person may either want to hurt you or must have a different point of view. By burning within, you are helping this person get what she wants. By reacting without understanding her point of view, you are being judgmental. So, the most selfish, the most blissful response to being POPO-ed is to be selfless and give the situation love, all your attention and magnanimity, to keep doing what you would have done if the situation did not exist. This is your way to inner peace.
Now, many times, people tell me, “But I am not Saint or a Mahatma? I am not evolved. I am just human.” Please know that Gandhi was also an unevolved, hurting human and he died only because he was human. To be evolved you don’t need to be a Saint. And being a Saint does not mean you are meek. A Saint, a true Saint, is a warrior of a different kind. Someone who has conquered the demons within. Someone who knows that it is but natural for Life and people to be unfair, that being POPO-ed is but a dimension of Life, a phase that we have to live with. Not with suffering. But with peace.
This doesn’t mean that the peaceful should not fight the injustice. But fight it differently. First don’t hurt. Next, return love for hatred and respect for contempt. Third, if there has truly been a case of injustice, choose a form of protest which rises above the ordinary and refuse to yield to the injustice by giving the situation 100 % of everything. These are not contradictory approaches. They are complementary. When you are peaceful, you will be able to fight meaningfully and successfully. So when POPO-ed, be mindful and loving, don’t be sulking!