When you are merely activity-driven, you are never present in the moment!
We met a young lady recently who is obese, has hypertension and complained of her inability to stay focused. As we sipped some filter coffee, she tucked into a badushah (a sweet doughnut!). But even before she had finished eating it, she had checked her phone a few times, she had looked around the café and exclaimed that her Life had become monotonous, predictable and dreary. She confessed that she is simply not able to prioritize and manage her time and tasks effectively; she wondered what she must be doing to fix her “poor attention span” problem.
Many people are in this young lady’s situation – grappling with their home and work schedules, unable to find time for themselves, coping with lifestyle-related challenges like diabetes and hypertension and, overall, just going through the paces of Life, never really being able to live it fully! There’s only one way such people can “re-invent” themselves. They have to learn to be mindful. It’s not a method, it’s an art – and it can be mastered with understanding and practice.
Mindfulness is the ability to just be, to be in the present moment. Many a time, we keep doing stuff – cooking, cleaning, driving, smoking or eating. We don’t concentrate on what we are doing. Our mind is elsewhere. Our activities then are just chores. Our actions are not mindful, they are really mindless, mechanical. Which is why we are unable to “see” that some of what we could be doing is “ruinous”. We know, for instance, that smoking is ruinous, over-eating is ruinous, not exercising is ruinous, worrying is ruinous. But we go on doing these things. Mindlessly. Which is why observing your own Life, and viewing it dispassionately as a third party, helps. When you observe yourself you will realize how mindlessly you go through your days. You simply are going through hurried motions. You are not present in any of your actions. You are merely activity-driven. You are never in the moment. For instance, you are working overtime to send your kids to school – but never pausing to celebrate and enjoy their innocence. You are rushing to finish your bath – but are never enjoying your body. You are eating in a rush – but are not tasting and relishing your food. You are texting away madly – but are never celebrating how much smaller the world has become thanks to Facebook and WhatsApp. You go on worrying endlessly – without realizing that worrying doesn’t solve any problem and only keeps you away from enjoying whatever you have! It is only by being mindful in each moment that you can really understand what about you needs to change.
Try a simple exercise in mindfulness. Make yourself a cup of green tea. And drink it patiently enjoying every sip. Feel the tea energize you as it enters your body. Don’t let your thoughts wander. Be focused on experiencing the tea travel within you. Examine how you felt while drinking it. This experience of being one with the tea, this feeling, is what mindfulness is all about. This is what is Zen. Practice this in everything that you do. When cooking, focus on the recipe and its preparation, on the aroma, on the taste! When driving focus on the road and the joy of navigation; if the traffic is messy, don’t complain, just soak in all that you observe and be grateful for your ability to see, to drive, to own a vehicle or simply to even be in a vehicle – compared to so many others who don’t have all that you do! When on Facebook, celebrate the opportunity to connect with the world, your world. Every time your mind wanders, to a past event and makes you feel guilty or to a future event and makes you anxious, bring it back to attend on whatever you are doing now. Remember the human mind is like the human body. It will resist any change first. But repeatedly bringing the mind back to focus on the present, you can train it to let go of the past and to not indulge in the future.
Please don’t treat this suggestion of the “green tea experience” as a one-off experiment in Zen. Every once in a while step aside from your Life and observe yourself. As a third party. You will then discover how much you have to change for your Life to change! Conversely, only when you are fully present in each moment, are you alive in it. It is only then that you are living the moment fully. When you live each moment fully, you will realize its value. And through this realization, you will be able to transform yourself – your priorities, your work, your health and your Life!
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Gandhi taught us the power and value of living intelligently!
A friend’s Facebook post caught my attention yesterday and set me thinking! My friend announced that he would unfriend anyone who made racist or unqualified remarks about Gandhi. And sure enough he did what he promised – he promptly unfriended those who shared unfounded sentiments about the great man! I liked my friend’s in-the-face approach. Over the past couple of decades, I have been noticing a disturbing trend. People seem to revel in Mahatma-bashing. From calling him names to questioning his ideology to even doubting his relevance, it almost seems like it is fashionable to shred Gandhi.
I have obviously not met Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. But I have studied him – not the Mahatma, not the Father of the Nation, not the political master strategist, but Gandhi, The Man.
My study of Gandhi almost never happened. Way back in 2007, there used to be a bookstore called Connexions opposite my office in R A Puram, Chennai. This was basically a gift store, with a collection of books that the owner personally curated. One afternoon, while browsing through the store, I found Eknath Easwaran’s Gandhi, The Man, staring at me. I liked the way the book defined its purpose – ‘to tell the story of how one man changed himself to change the world’. Around that time I was embracing mouna, the practice of observing silence for an hour daily. I had begun an inner journey, to understand my Self better even as I was asking several existential questions of me, of Life. While the book interested me, I did not pick it up. I had not heard of Eknath Easwaran then. And I didn’t think then that there was anything new a book could tell me about Gandhi, that I didn’t already know!
But just the next day, I read a newspaper interview in which Rajnikanth, yes – the Tamil film Super Star, named two books that changed his Life. One was Living with the Himalayan Masters by Swami Rama and the other was Eknath Easwaran’s Gandhi, The Man. I had known of Rajnikanth’s spiritual side, but didn’t quite imagine he would read books. Nor did I ever expect that he would name a rather unheard of book, that I had just stumbled upon the previous day. I rushed back to the bookstore and found Easwaran’s book still there. I bought it!
The book changed my Life.
I had for long been dealing with anger. People on my team called me chiefscreamer – punning on my title, chiefdreamer! That’s how lousy my reputation was. Reading Gandhi, The Man, helped me realize that anger was energy, which when channeled, could be deployed very constructively. I also learned from the book how beautifully Gandhi separated the issue from the people connected with it. He famously said, “I don’t hate the English, but I hate the way the English rule my country.” In a way, he practiced ahimsa, not just as non-violent action, as is popularly perceived, but as non-violent thought. But all of this, I realized, Gandhi ingrained in him thanks to his meditations of the Bhagavad Gita. The second chapter of the Bhagavad Gita ends with unveiling the highest state of consciousness a human being can attain. Krishna, replying to Arjuna, says (presenting here only the relevant extract that Easwaran too shares in Gandhi, The Man):
“…He lives in wisdom, who sees himself in all and all in him,
Whose love for the Lord of Love has consumed
Every selfish desire and sense-craving
Tormenting the heart.
Not agitated by grief,
Nor hanker after pleasure,
He lives free from lust and fear and anger.
Fettered no more by selfish attachments
He is not elated by good fortune,
nor depressed by bad.
Such is the seer….”
Gandhi, according to Easwaran, meditated on this verse for 50 years every morning and night and devoted all his life to translating it into his daily action. This was the key to his self-transformation.
I have internalized the essence of this verse too. And I have seen myself transform from being stressed out, angry, worried and insecure, to being centered, anchored and at peace with myself and my Life. I am happy with what is. I work daily on continuing to remain unmoved and unfrustrated about all that which happens to me, around me. I owe this transformation in me to Gandhi for leading the way and to Easwaran for telling me, through his book, how Gandhi changed himself first before attempting to share his way of Life with the world. Just for this one reason alone, though there surely are several other reasons, I feel none of us must ever question Gandhi. We don’t have the right to do that unless we have achieved what he had in his lifetime – which is, to be the change that we wish to see around us!
In a relationship conflict, consider preserving your inner peace first. That’s what matters most.
A young lady we met recently talked about her failed marriage. She said when she saw the relationship withering away, she took time off to think things through. And then she came back into the relationship to give it one more chance. But when her spouse refused to see value or reason in her efforts, she said, she just decided to move on. “I didn’t see the point anymore. I knew I had to go on to live the Life that was waiting for me,” she explained.
Break-ups are never easy. Surely not when you have made every effort to make things better. But prudence lies in thinking the way the young lady reasoned with her situation. You can try to wake up someone who is asleep. But you can never quite wake up someone who is pretending to be asleep. So, if a relationship must work – any relationship – both parties must be ready and willing to change. This is not about being willing to adjust or accommodate alone; it is about being to relate to each other’s points of view. I don’t think there’s anyone who will be unreasonable or unwilling to change themselves if they see, agree and relate to the other person’s point of view. The tragedy is that most of the time they don’t relate to what you are saying. And so they refuse to change. Therefore, in such cases, it is just best you move on instead of hoping, pining and waiting for the other person to change, losing precious time in Life doing this, and often suffering through the process.
A fundamental understanding we all need to cultivate is that nobody is good or bad; no one is right or wrong. It is just that each of us is a product of the time – in Life – that we are going through. So, in some phases in Life, people refuse to see what’s evident, what’s simple and what’s best for all parties concerned. They just think that what they are thinking is right, they believe in what they are doing and they understand that their way, their reasoning, is the only way. So, when dealing with such a situation, when the parties involved in a relationship conflict are refusing to see each other’s point of view, it is best to not press on. This is not giving up, this is not being selfish either. This is being practical, logical and sensible. This is about wanting to preserve your inner peace and choosing to be happy.