The power of now is huge – it creates unputdownable value!
Last evening was pretty interesting.
A friend had invited us to a meeting of his Rotary Club where Arundhati Subramaniam, the eminent poet and writer, was delivering a Talk. As we settled down to listen to her, my neighbor, a Rotarian who knows us fairly well, leaned closer and asked me: “How are things with you and Vaani, AVIS? I hope they have improved?” (To understand the relevance of this question, read more here: Fall Like A Rose Petal) I smiled at him and replied: “Things are exactly the way they have been. We live in the present, from moment to moment. As of now, I have clarity that we will be able to manage for this evening and tomorrow. What happens for the day after, I will know only tomorrow evening.” The gentleman held my hand and said, “Your equanimity is amazing. Thanks for inspiring all of us.”
I am humbled by such sentiment. I don’t think Vaani and I have achieved something phenomenal and extra-ordinary. I am quite sure anyone is capable of developing equanimity. All this requires is for you understand Life’s true nature. Everything about Life is impermanent. Whatever is yours today, including your own Life, will be taken away from you sometime surely. So, there’s absolutely no point grieving over or worrying about anything in Life. Let go of what’s over and don’t be insecure about what is to happen. Just be present in the moment – living with what is. This is what equanimity is all about. Through practice, you can make living with equanimity, from moment to moment, a fine art. Simple.
Most people don’t believe this is possible only because they don’t want to invest – their efforts and time – in learning how this is done. Living in the moment is not at all difficult – you just have to train your mind not to delve into the past or race into the future. The mind will initially resist you. It will fight you every step of the way. Because the human mind thrives only in the past or in the future. In the present moment, in the now, the mind is powerless. But with consistent training, the mind will submit to your direction. It will obey you. And when it does, and when you start living in the moment, you will see what a beautiful celebration Life really is. Where there is no grief, anger, guilt over what is past and when there is no worry, anxiety or fear of what is to come, you can only be happy. Which is why being constantly in the now is a continuous celebration.
Interestingly, as we stepped out of the Rotary Club meeting, a friend called. He is visiting Chennai from London. He was at an event to launch Tekplay, a digital business transformation company. He invited us to join the launch event at Hotel Crowne Plaza. When we arrived there, we discovered that Mahendra Singh Dhoni was the chief guest at the Tekplay launch. And as part of the event, he was in conversation with the company’s executive director, Prabhuram Ramanathan. Prabhu asked Dhoni what he thought of “Dhoni at 45”. And Dhoni replied: “I always live in the present. How can I even tell you what it will be like 9 years from now…?”
Vaani looked at me at this point. We smiled at each other. Ask us, and we’ll tell you how much value the power of now can create; it helps us live intelligently, powerfully, meaningfully. Besides, it has surely helped us postpone worrying and be happy despite our excruciating circumstances.
Enjoy the power of now!
We were at a house concert recently. Rajasthani folk singers from Barmer, who are called Manganiyars, were performing. It was a privilege to listen to them live, at such close quarters. A lady sat next to me. She kept requesting the singers to sing a song of Reshma’s (a Pakistani folk singer who was born near Bikaner, Rajasthan), particularly, the number Lambi Judaai from the film Hero (Subash Ghai, 1983, Laxmikant Pyarelal). The Manganiyars politely declined to sing the song requested by the lady saying they don’t sing film songs. But the lady kept extolling Reshma’s virtues – she started to discuss Reshma’s voice, the music of Hero and the haunting impact the Lambi Judaai song left on the listener. All this, even as the Manganiyars went on to perform more native songs from their community. The lady’s banter was very distracting for me. So I moved away from her and immersed myself in the Manganiyars’ performance. A few songs later, I tried to check on the lady. She was still singing paeans in Reshma’s praise. She was simply not present in the Manganiyars’ concert!
I found a very important spiritual takeaway from the lady’s behavior. She is, to me, but a metaphor. She reminds us that we are all often never present in our nows. Our human mind thrives only in the past or in the future. Which is why it drags us back to the past – which is dead, which is over – or pulls us into imagining a future – that is still unborn, yet to arrive. But Life is always happening in the present moment, in the now. So, when we obey the mind, we are missing living in the moment. We are missing the beauty and magic of Life. This is what was happening to the lady – she was missing the scintillating, live performance of the Manganiyars, she was clinging on to Reshma and to Lambi Judaai – not that they are bad memories, but in the present moment, they were clearly irrelevant!
In Buddhism, the mind is referred to as the Monkey Mind. This is to emphasize the point that there is a constant churn of thoughts, most of them unsettling in nature, that is happening in the undisciplined mind. With a mind that is steeped in anger, grief, guilt, fear, anxiety, worry and such wasteful, debilitating thoughts, where is the opportunity to live in the moment? One Buddhist scripture quotes the Buddha even describing the mind thus: “The human mind is like a drunken monkey that has been stung by a bee.” This is so apt. So powerful a metaphor that I can totally relate to.
The mind is powerless in the present. So, when you are trying to relax, for instance, watching TV or a sunset, the mind will remind you of a sunset that you watched with your girlfriend. And your thoughts will go to a time in the past that is so painful because your girlfriend and you had a messy break-up. Or it will drag you into the future, to a worry about some unpaid bills and the lack of cash to meet them – which includes not being able to pay for your DTH TV connection coming due next week! When your mind wanders, it will stop being in the present. So will you. Which is why all of us are leading incomplete lives – lost in mourning about the past or worrying incessantly about the future. This is why we suffer.
I have, over time and consistent practice, learnt to tame the drunken monkeys in my mind. To expect thoughts – the drunken monkeys – not to arise in your mind is futile. As long as you are alive your mind will be churning out thoughts. Intelligent living is the ability to tame the drunken monkeys and make them powerless by staying in the present. This then is the state of no-mind. We must try to be in this state for as long as possible each day. That’s the only way to not be held hostage by the past or be fearful of the future. That is the only way to live in the now!
Learn to celebrate the only Life you have by living in the moment!
“I don’t know where my Life is going. I am totally clueless. There seems to be no point in anything that I do. I have a cushy job, a stable ‘more-than-average’ income, a loving family but it is as if I am on a treadmill – I am running faster and faster, yet, getting nowhere!” This was a lament from a senior executive at a leading software company, when I bumped into him at a coffee shop the other day. He added, asking “Have you ever felt like this, AVIS?”
Of course, I have felt like that. Everyone feels like that at some time in their Life.
And I have realized that this feeling gnaws at you only when you want your Life to be predictable, when you want answers to all your questions. But, beyond a point, there are no answers in Life. When despite having everything material, like this gentleman who I met, if you still feel empty, listless, you must awaken to the reality that education, social status, a job, affluence, all these things cannot satiate you. I have come to understand that such emptiness must be celebrated. It must not be resisted. What this emptiness is teaching you is that while you have every ‘thing’, you are not happy. So, clearly, happiness doesn’t come from having things. Happiness is who you are when you simply are living in the moment; when you are enjoying your Life for what it is.
The human mind is the culprit here. It is always grazing in the past or in the future. Which is why this man is feeling lost. He has everything that most people will crave for, but he’s not enjoying any of those. His mind is searching, yearning, pining for something else. He must realize that there’s nothing to gain or attain or achieve in Life. The only Life we all have is the Life that is happening to us in the moment. In his case, he doesn’t even know what he is searching for. In someone else’s case, they want more of what he has. In another’s case, they are grieving over what is lost. So, simply, as long as your mind is away from the moment, you can never be happy.
I have a hairdresser friend called Ramalingam in Bangalore. He works at the salon at Vivanta by the Taj at Trinity Circle there. In the days when I had a lot of hair, I would visit him every month. On one visit, when he found me very fidgety, constantly typing out messages on my Nokia Communicator, he asked me if he could share an unsolicited perspective. I grudgingly nodded in approval. He told me this: “The greatest human quality is to simply be. If you can drop this constant urge to become, to be some place else, to be in control, and just be, then you have mastered the art of intelligent living.” I barked at him for chiding me. I told him it is fine as a hairdresser to hold such a ‘non-corporate’ point of view. In business, I championed, you have to be on the move, you have to constantly be driving – harder, stronger. You have to be on the ball all the time, else someone, somewhere will drop a catch. And catches cost matches. Ramalingam looked back at me and said, “By not learning to be, you have already dropped a big catch – you! The constant doer is not the Master. Only one who can simply be is the true Master!”
What he said to me that day made no sense to me back then. But over the years of practicing mouna (daily silence periods), whenever I think back at that conversation, I recognize that Ramalingam was, after all, right. He was actually pointing to the fact that when you are in a frenzy of activity, you are being controlled by your mind. In the name of business, you are constantly feigning ‘busyness’; to the extent that you are trapped by it. Your emptiness comes from this sense of ‘busyness’ – this feeling of running, running, running, like on a treadmill, but getting nowhere! For this emptiness to make way for fulfilment, for happiness to be flowing from within you, you must learn to control your mind. You must drop your desire to become something and simply be. Just be in the moment, living, thriving, celebrating the only Life you have! Merry Christmas!
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Mindfulness leads to an eternal celebration of Thanksgiving!
We were at a community dinner yesterday. It was hosted in the car park of a building that was nearing completion. As we waited in a queue to pick up our plates, a huge blob of black paint fell on me from above. I was wearing my favorite white Cottonworld linen shirt. The paint obviously stained the shirt badly, irreparably, on the shoulder and on my back. Of course I was startled. And angry too. It was a beautiful white shirt, always sitting so elegantly on me, despite being over a decade old. In a couple of minutes I could make out that the shirt was a write-off. Even as I was contemplating if I must go up the building and reprimand the painter in question for being negligent, the queue moved up. And it was my turn to pick up the plate.
I decided to focus on dinner. It was a simple, sumptuous dinner of bissibelebath and thayir sadam, pulikachal, vadam and appalam. Volunteers served us with so much warmth and joy. As I enjoyed my meal, I thought of the number of people who would have toiled to make it possible. I thanked the farmers who grew the grains, the mandi-wallahs, the cooks, the milk suppliers, the helpers who arranged the buffet and the volunteers who served us…my list was in no way complete! It can’t be. Because, in reality, so many stakeholders make each living moment possible for you. So, there’s someone, somewhere always for you to thank in any moment, in any context!
After the meal, when I was riding an Uber back home, I thought of the painter. In these times of demonetization, when daily wages are not being dispensed so easily, I celebrated the man’s willingness to work so late into the evening. He surely didn’t intend for the paint to drip down. He perhaps didn’t even know that it had or that it had stained someone’s shirt. To me, it didn’t matter – not anymore.
I simply loved the learning the entire episode and experience offered. In reality, I had lost a shirt, a beautiful white Cottonworld linen shirt – my favorite. I would have continued being livid had I clung on to that accident and to that wave of anger that had naturally arisen within me. Had I been that way, I may have eaten my dinner, but I may well have missed the beauty and magic it served. This is what being in the present can do to you, this is what mindfulness delivers to you. It helps you detach from a dead, often painful, past. It prevents you from straying into the future, where, because it is unborn and, therefore, unknown, it is always dark. When you graze in the dark, you will obviously be gripped by insecurity and fear. But when you are mindful, there is total freedom – you are neither held hostage by the past nor are you scared of the future. So, mindfulness is about being available in the present moment. It is about accepting whatever is. And when you are immersed in what is, there is only gratitude, only celebration. Just as my dinner yesterday was; a simple observation of gratitude over some bissibelebath and thayir sadam led to so much celebration in me.
Now, this isn’t about one dinner. It isn’t a one-time experience. To be sure, metaphorically, there’s always a painter dropping a blob of paint on you somewhere, somehow, and there’s always a great meal being served up with so much warmth somewhere, somehow! So, mindfulness is an opportunity that’s available in each living moment. And this can be the way you live your entire Life. Because from the moment you are born to the moment you die, your lifetime is never made up of only what you do. So many millions constantly contribute to make your Life happen. In fact, pause for a moment and think of how many people are helping you read this blogpost – think of the folks that invented the mobile phone, think of the founder of the Internet, think of me and all those people that helped me be who I am so I can share my learnings with you, think of your parents who gave birth to and have raised you, think of those that taught you the language, think of how miraculous it is that you have been born – without your asking to be created – human….again, this list too is endless…aren’t you soaked in gratitude, aren’t you recognizing the celebration that your Life really is? Even in times when you feel betrayed, beaten and defeated, by people and events, there’s an opportunity to be grateful – for such experiences teach you what not to do, they teach you forgiveness, they teach you of the impermanent nature of Life.
Being mindful is the simplest and the best way to live Life. Imagine, if we were to spend our entire lifetimes in gratitude for who we are and how we have got to where we are – then won’t Life be an endless celebration? Simply, mindfulness is the only way we can be celebrating Thanksgiving eternally…!
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