No more Manic Mondays: Make them Magical!

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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.

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.”

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!

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!

To find inner peace, peace is “the” way

Peace arrives when you stop resisting, stop fighting and stop struggling with Life.
Each of us is fighting something or the other. All the time. Someone fights for health. Someone else for wealth. There’s someone fighting for dignity. And someone for identity. Someone out there fights for companionship. Another soldiers on for acceptance. Yet a factor that’s common to all constituencies is that everyone, despite their individual fights, wants peace. You look around. Ask around. And you will find that almost everyone wants just peace. And they will all talk about inner peace __  bliss, joy, plain, good ol’ happiness.
But you can’t pursue peace when you are struggling with Life, fighting its every dimension. You cannot be angry with your situation in Life and expect to find peace in it at the same time. Peace will come, when you suspend all hostility in your mind, and through that act, make your immediate circle of influence peaceful. Peace has a price to be paid for, and that is to be accepting of a situation or a person or an outcome. Many people wonder what is the way to peace. And the simplest answer to their query is what Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh champions: “Peace is the way!”
But by ceasing to fight, are you embracing inaction? And isn’t inaction equal to committing hara-kiri? Let me clarify: ceasing to fight is not inaction. It means acceptance. You can be accepting of a situation, be peaceful, and yet work towards changing it. They are not mutually exclusive. On the other hand, they are complementary. The other day, at a coffee shop, I noticed a young couple argue with each other at another table. The lady was agitated. Often gesticulating wildly, raising her voice just so much that others around could hear and perceive that she was upset with the gentleman. The man, on the other hand, was stoic. He was calm and in control of himself, even if he was not in control of the situation. At the end of their discussions and arguments, I felt nothing had been resolved. Things were where they were when they came in. But the lady stomped out in a huff, and I believe she must have been continuing to fight the situation, or the man, in her mind. The man was calm, perhaps not happy either with the way the meeting ended, and made a slow, peaceful exit. He may also have felt that things could have been better, but for sure, he wasn’t feeling worse. He was peaceful. He wasn’t fighting. Yet he was not abstaining from action. Coming to the meeting, making an attempt, while staying calm, was indeed action.

We too can embrace this way of living. Simply, don’t start with asking ‘WHY?’ of Life at each of its twists and turns. Exclaim instead, ‘Interesting, so, we have a situation…!’, and mobilize your action to resolving it. Even a fight for a nation’s independence can be a peaceful__and successful__one. Gandhi proved it and so did 300 million of his followers, fellow Indians, back then. The same principle applies here. End all violent thinking __ about anyone or anything __ and approach each problem or situation with complete focus and total equanimity. Remember: to find peace, inner peace, peace is the way!