Your awareness holds the key to be non-suffering
Switch from “Just Do It!” to “Just Let It!”
“Let It” always aids and abets “Let Go”!!
Why is it that people find letting go such a tough thing to do? The answer is simple: when people don’t want the Life that is happening to them, they cling on to their pasts and to their imagined realties, they then find letting go difficult.
Whether we like it or not Life is only doing what it pleases. It has a mind of its own. So, the best way to let go is to let Life do as it will. Which means you don’t become a party to Life’s trials and tribulations, even if they concern you and your circle of influence, but you choose to remain just a witness.
This practice of just letting Life do what it pleases is called “Let It”. It aids and abets “Let Go”!
Being in a perpetual “Let It” mode can possibly mean this – Let problems come. Let problems go. Let happiness come. Let happiness go. Let debt come. Let debt go. Let grief come. Let grief go. Let death come. Let death go. It means switching from “Just Do It!” to “Just Let It!”
I struggled with the concept initially. But I soon discovered that only when you are party to something are you in grief. When you are a witness, there is a momentary dissonance, but you are quickly reminded by your awareness that you are not involved! When something goes wrong with your child, you are stressed out. You are anxious. You want a resolution. When something goes wrong with a neighbor’s child, you profess concern, you lend a shoulder, you support but you do not get involved or attached. So can you look at your own Life like the way you would look at your neighbor’s? Can you be a mere witness? When you are in that state you will realize that any situation can be faced and lived through.
This is not at all difficult. It is outright simple. When you are involved, is when attachment will come. And where there is attachment there will be agony. But if you are a mere witness, a doer of what you can and what you must, and let Life lead, you will be in a “Let Go” because you have “Let It” take over!
Experiencing Zen with a cup of green tea
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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Invest 1 hour in silence daily and reclaim the remaining 23!
Learn to be a witness of your Life and you will anchor in inner peace!
A friend sent me a WhatsApp message to share how much he was benefiting from the practice of ‘mouna’ which I talk about in my Book – ‘Fall Like A Rose Petal’. His message made me want to share my learnings from ‘mouna’ here, on this Blog, one more time.
If there’s one practice that you want to develop in Life – learn to be silent for at least an hour daily. This practice is called ‘mouna’. Most forms of meditation require that you silence the environment before you begin to still the mind. But ‘mouna’ does not require the environment to be silent, it requires you, your mind, to be silent. It instils in you the capability to be just a witness of your own Life. Being a witness means not to pass judgment, not to evaluate, not to condemn and not to appreciate. A witness just is.
The human mind is always trafficking thoughts. Of all kinds – relevant and irrelevant, both at all times. 24 x 7. Research reveals that the average mind thinks 60,000 thoughts a day – and all of them are soaked in worry, anxiety, fear, anger, grief, guilt and, rarely, some of them are happy and peaceful thoughts too. ‘mouna’ helps in organizing this traffic and ensures that through your inner awareness, you detach yourself from your situation and simply be a witness of your Life.
Let me share a story that I have read in one of the books that Osho, the Master, wrote.
One morning Gautam Buddha was talking to his disciples. The king, Prasenjita, had also come to listen to him. He was sitting right in front of the Buddha. Prasenjita was not accustomed to sitting on the floor – he was a king, you see – so he was feeling uncomfortable, fidgety, changing sides, somehow trying not to disturb and not to be noticed by the Buddha because he was concerned that he was unable to sit silently, peacefully. He was continuously moving the big toe of his foot, for no reason, just to be busy without business. Some people are like that – they cannot be without business; they will still be busy!
Gautam Buddha stopped talking and asked Prasenjita, “Can you tell me, why are you moving your big toe?”
In fact, Prasenjita himself was not aware of it. Sometimes, you – and I – are doing a thousand and one things that we are not aware of. Unless somebody points them out, you may not take any note of it.
The moment Buddha asked him, the toe stopped moving. Buddha sought to know, “Why have you stopped moving the toe?”
Prasenjita said, “You are putting me in an embarrassing situation. I don’t know why that toe was moving. This much I know: that as you asked the question it stopped. I have not done anything – neither was I moving it, nor have I stopped it.”
Buddha said to his disciples, “Do you see the point? The toe belongs to the man. It moves, but he is not aware of its movement. And the moment he becomes aware – because I asked the question – the very awareness immediately stops the toe. He does not stop it. The very awareness, that ‘It is stupid, why are you moving it?’ – just the awareness is enough to stop it.”
This is really what ‘mouna’, and your being a witness, can help you with. It can help you realize that you too can be ‘aware’ – and so you too can stop doing many things that you go on doing, just like that. Worrying incessantly is one of those things that we all do – many a time without knowing that we are worrying. When you learn to still the mind and organize your thoughts, you learn to weed out worry. When you step outside the orbit of your worldly Life and assume the role of a witness, you will see the futility in squandering your precious lifetime thinking debilitating thoughts. When the witness in you becomes active, the mind becomes slowly powerless. Through your continuous practice of ‘mouna’, you eventually learn to fully still your mind, making it totally inactive. It is in that 100 % witness state that you discover the secret to living happily and being at peace with what is!
Now, practicing ‘mouna’ takes up an investment of one hour daily. Won’t you rather invest one hour to reclaim the remaining 23, which you would otherwise fritter away? Doesn’t that sound like an impressive, irresistible, unputdownable ROI on your time?
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Of Madan Mohan’s magical music and a learning to offer yourself selflessly
None of us deserves anything more than all that we have. Seriously!
Yesterday was a long day. We were having legal issues to deal with, followed by a potential business opportunity being explored, then meeting with someone who will be a guest on one of the live events Vaani and I curate and finally having to explain ourselves – over the inability to repay money we owed him – to a creditor. Eight hours of meetings that were spread across different parts of Chennai. Phew! When we got home, I settled down for a quick throwback to my kind of music, from Hindi Cinema of the 50s ~ 80s, on Raina Beeti Jaaye on Sony Mix.
Last night it was a Madan Mohan special. And it was magical! As Lata Mangeshkar sang Lag Jaa Gale from Woh Kaun Thi? (1964, Raj Khosla, Madan Mohan, Raja Mehdi Ali Khan, Sadhana, Manoj Kumar), I could feel my fatigue dissolve and my spirits soar!
Show anchors Sumeet Raghavan and Akriti Kakar kept filling us in on trivia related to the great composer. But what caught my attention was the fact that Madan Mohan had died a heart-broken man, at 51, in 1975, because he had felt that the world didn’t recognize him as much as he thought he had deserved. He died of liver cirrhosis having taken to drinking heavily. I found this genius’ story very heart-rending.
Why do we expect Life to reward us with fame, wealth, adulation and recognition? Why can’t we simply use the opportunity of this lifetime to offer what we have, within us, to the world, to leave it a better place than we found it? Why must we expect and then suffer when our expectations go unmet?
Simply, expectations – of any sort, from anyone – bring agony. All human suffering is rooted in our desire that our Life must be different from what it is. I think if we remove our desires, our expectations, from the scene, Life is a wholesome opportunity to be blissful. Each of us is blessed with a bliss, which when we follow, we will be unconditionally happy, despite the circumstances we are placed in.
Among all the emotional issues a human being grapples with, when trying to seek inner peace and happiness, the principal debilitator is self-pity. It is your desire to stake claim for what you believe you deserve, that makes you brood, that makes you compare yourself with another, that makes you feel jealous and that makes you look outside for external validation and recognition. Osho, the Master, says self-pity is the highest form of ego. And as long as you don’t dissolve your ego, you can never be. And if you can’t just be, you will never be happy.
Whether it is Madan Mohan or me, or you, no one escapes this desire for deservance. It strikes everyone. But some people do rise above this desire. This is where embracing the witness state is very helpful.
I have gone through this process of catharsis and awakening, so I speak from personal experience. I have craved for attention, adulation and recognition too. And whenever I didn’t get it, I always suffered. I hated it, of course, when I suffered. So, it was my suffering that led me to seek ways to get rid of it. I found that the only way to be non-suffering in Life is to be expectation-less. I learnt, through Osho’s perspectives, to master the art of being a witness of my own Life. If you are an observer, you are engaged enough to report, to analyze. But as a witness, there’s no engagement; a witness is just seeing what’s going on. When you are a witness, you don’t expect anything, so you don’t suffer.
In that state, I discovered that each of us is special and is filled with a unique music, a personal signature tune if you like. And all we must do in this lifetime is to offer that music in us wholesomely to the world. Period. Someone’s a great cricketer, someone’s a wonderful gardener, someone’s an outstanding chef, someone’s a brilliant writer, someone’s an inspired teacher…so each one’s music has to play, to heal the world, to make it a better place. That’s the only reason why you and I are created on this planet. So simply offer yourself, selflessly, and quietly go away when your number is called. Seeking deservance is wasteful and self-destructive. You already have, and you only get, what Life believes you truly deserve. Even so, while on this human journey if some fame, wealth, reward and recognition comes your way, accept it humbly, acknowledging to yourself that you are but a messenger, a delivery channel. The music in you belongs to the world and all the credit for it therefore belongs to the Higher Energy that created both you and this world!
When you live your Life this way, offering yourself selflessly, without seeking deservance, you can only be non-suffering, you can only be happy.
‘Don’t judge’ means ‘don’t condemn’, not ‘don’t correct’
Avoid judging people and events around you. Take them as they come. For what they are. You simply be.
Last week a student called me from Changanacherry in Kerala. He wanted me to preside over an event at his college. The role involved judging several contestants in a series of competitions. I politely declined the invitation. Somehow, I just can’t accept that anyone can or must judge anyone else.
One of the first lessons we are taught in school is “Don’t judge a book by its cover”! But that’s precisely what we do. We do it all the time. We are always judging someone or something __ events, governments, government policies, sporting teams, movie stars, politicians, children, parents, siblings, companions and partners. For instance, all of India is presently polarized over judging our athletes’ performance at Rio.
Why do we judge? Because judging is free. Nobody is stopping you. So you indulge in pronouncing judgments. It comes easily. It is exciting. It gives you an air of superiority. You may not be seeking or realizing that superior feeling consciously at all. But your subconscious loves it. You feel like an exalted member of the jury, looked up to by your own private circle of courtiers, while pronouncing someone guilty.
And why do we loathe being judged? Because you almost always are being judged for a single act and not for the real person that you are. The simplest way to avoid judging is to put yourself in the shoes of the person being judged and ask if you would have liked to be talked about that way! This is not easy to do. But it is simple. Over time, employing empathy and compassion, you can kill your urge to judge __ yourself and other people!
No one is perfect. No one is complete. No one is a saint. And no one is a born villain. Left to themselves, even the people who commit heinous crimes, who are tried, judged and punished by law, may not have ever wanted to end up that way. Given a choice, they would not have wanted to commit those acts at all or they may well want to undo those acts. Even in such cases, the judgment rarely indicts the person. It merely punishes the act, though the person who committed the act is pronounced guilty of it!
Perhaps there’s a lesson from the legal system here for all of us who indulge in recklessly and wholesomely judging people. Perhaps, it’s also a good idea to fundamentally evaluate whether judging people, including ourselves, is worth it at all? A lifetime is a much bigger, vaster, varied experience. A single act may well mar and scar a person’s reputation __ as we found in the case of Shiney Ahuja or Tiger Woods or Bill Clinton __ but cannot and must not incinerate a lifetime of work. So much time and emotion is wasted in judging. So much so, that sometimes, we end up judging ourselves and plunge into either depression or float in a fake sense of exaggerated self-importance.
This does not mean that we should not step in when we see someone headed in a wrong direction. We sure must. A teacher must judge the performance __ both academically and morally __ of her ward and prevent and prohibit factors that inhibit good performance. Don’t judge does not mean don’t correct. It means don’t condemn. It means don’t dump. It means focus on the act and still respect, love and appreciate the person for who she is. Place the act not in the backdrop of your morality, your virtuousness or your principles alone, but in the context of that person’s circumstances (when the act was committed) and the well-being of the people in his or her circle of influence.
To judge __ others or yourself __ is wasteful, regrettable and avoidable. Instead, a better position to take is to be a witness. A silent observer. No opinions. Just quiet learning. Take what you want to take from that person’s action or experience and discard the rest. Most important, when you are a mere observer, there is no anguish, no pain, no suffering, no victim, no villain…there’s just you, in a state of total inner peace!
Witnessing can help your Buddhahood
Every once in a while, you must assume the role of a witness of your own Life.
Yesterday I had to wait a couple of hours at a computer maintenance studio. The people working on my daughter’s laptop were not able to tell me how long the fix would take. So, I slipped into ‘mouna’ – anchoring in silence within me. I took stock of my Life, looking at myself, as a third party. I figuratively perched myself on the wall in the studio, and viewed “AVIS’ Life” as a fly would view it. It looked totally devastated on so many fronts. I could list about 8 areas of “AVIS’ Life that were completely broke – apart from the most visible one, the bankruptcy”! I examined what “AVIS could be doing about each of them, apart from what AVIS was doing and what they, both Vaani and AVIS, were doing to fix it”. After deep and candid introspection, review and analysis, I reiterated to myself that it was not for lack of effort from us that we were still struggling with those 8 broke areas of our Life. It is just a phase that too shall pass. While assuming the witness role helped in looking at things objectively, it also helped me avoid feeling guilty or burdened by the enormity of having to fix these 8 areas in this lifetime. As a witness, I also saw “AVIS’ Life” as “abundant, radiant and useful – in the manner in which Vaani and he were creating value around them despite all that they don’t have!” I let both realities about my Life, as “witnessed” by me, just be – I did not grieve that there were so many broke areas nor did I exult at the thought of so much abundance despite so much of strife and loss.
Just then the engineer working on the laptop reported that he was going to try one more time to revive the machine, and if he failed, he was going to have to junk the hard drive and advise that we buy a new one. He asked for two days time to make this decision. As I took at an auto-rickshaw back home, the irony of the two stories, between me witnessing my Life and the engineer’s prognosis for the laptop, overlapping in more than one way, was starkly visible. I smiled to myself. Because I felt good being calm and unmoved.
Being a witness, refusing to get dragged into the drama – the anxiety, the anger, the grief, the suffering, the exultation, the ego, the pride or the I-am-controlling-my-Life attitude– associated with any situation is a great way to see your Life dispassionately. It gives you the opportunity to see the abundance in your Life that you so often miss when you are miserable or are suffering. Being a witness teaches you to be patient and keep the faith. Being a witness often times offers you creative solutions to knotty problems. Being a witness is the only way to live in this world and yet be above it!
Osho, the Master, says this so beautifully: “The witness is the very being of a Buddha. Witnessing is the nourishment for your Buddhahood. And the more powerful your Buddhahood is, the less anxiety there is. The day your Buddhahood is complete, all anxiety is gone.” My experience, through my ‘mouna’ session yesterday, is evidence that with witnessing it is possible to be detached from real-world, material and emotional, challenges. I have found that witnessing has helped me remain happy despite my circumstances. Witnessing has helped my Buddhahood! If it can help me, it can perhaps help you too – if you are willing to become the fly on the wall of your Life!!!
Witnessing is when you can soak in the suchness of what is!
Over time, become detached with yourself. Become a witness of your Life!
Last evening we noticed the amount of litter that had piled up on the streets around the Mylapore Tank owing to the Arubathimoovar festival at the Kapaleeswarar temple. Makeshift stalls had come up all over serving food and buttermilk to devotees who have been thronging the temple for the past week. The litter was created because the stall managers, and the devotees, both were being irresponsible with the way they disposed of waste – paper cups, plates, spoon, plastic gloves and such. I grieved looking at the state of affairs – no ‘Swach Bharat’ campaign can ever change the way we Indians think, behave and live, I thought. I was slipping into an anger – with the entire system – spiral, when I looked up at the sky and spotted the moon. It isn’t full moon yet, but the moon looked majestic and beautiful. I decided, for the rest of the evening, to soak in not what lay on the ground but what lit up the sky. I decided to be a witness – it helped me calm my nerves and enjoy the rest of the evening despite the chaos and mess around where we were!
To be sure there is great value – and power – in witnessing. Almost all our suffering comes from wanting to control our lives – people, events, things. In every situation that you find yourself in, if you imagine you are a mere fly on the wall, a witness, see how your changed perspective changes the way you feel and respond. When you are a witness, you are more detached than an observer. An observer has an agenda. But a witness merely happens to be there. So, as a witness, you are not involved with the drama. It is like watching a movie – when it is on, you watch it on the screen; but you are not one of the characters. You may relate to the story and the characters but you are not in the story, you are not them. When the movie is over, you just get up and come away.
The key is, can you get up and come away from your Life, without necessarily responding every single time you are seduced or provoked to respond in a situation?
Most people misunderstand the practice of meditation to be an act of silencing the environment around them. It is clearly not that. You can say you meditate only when you have learnt to still your mind, drop anchor, and remain silent. The Buddha rightly called meditation “witnessing”.
Witnessing is when you can soak in the suchness of what is – without necessarily responding. When you are a witness, you are more aware than involved. In the witness state, you learn to not immediately respond emotionally to any situation. You are there, but you are not there either. So anger, grief, guilt, anxiety….none of these emotions hold you hostage; they may arise, but your awareness will remind you not to succumb to them. When you are a witness, you are detached from the screenplay of your Life. This clearly does not mean inaction. In fact the detachment helps you choose when – and how – you must act.