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How to be Mindful?


I have asked this question to others and others have asked it to me. Along this journey, I have some answers.

Mindfulness traditional definition is non judgmental present moment awareness. We understand the meaning of the words on some level. But you understand it whole lot differently when you experience it once.

Do you exercise? If yes, how many of you exercise with a set goal in mind? To lose weight? To gain muscles? To look a certain way, or not to look a certain way? To regain health? To reduce blood pressure or diabetes? Whatever.

For me it was allure of a certain self image. I loved the idea of me looking very buff and muscular. I had that self image of how I was supposed to look. I found a sense of self worth, a sense of emotional security in that self image. I strived towards it without questioning the validity of that self image.

As long as I was working for that self image, I was enjoying exercise in an indirect way. The exercise itself was painful, because I was pushing myself, lifting more weights and running more miles. But I liked the thought that I am making progress towards the revered self image.

Then one day I was mindful of this whole game. I decided to let go of the self image. I had to face the insecurity that came with the thought that “I will not look that way”. But it was far easier to deal with this insecurity than I thought.

I started focusing on immediate reality and my sensations. I started lifting weights just enough that made me feel food. Made my muscles feel stretched and exercised. I ran just fast enough for me to enjoy running. I felt the runner’s high. The flood of good feeling endorphins running through my body. And I loved exercise in that very present moment. There was no goal except to enjoy the very moment.

As I practiced it, I settled into much lighter but enjoyable exercise routine. I started to look forward to going to the gym. My ‘calories burned’ went down, but my attendance to the gym got far more regular. I am nowhere closer to my buff and muscular image. But I am healthy and happy.

We all have this images of happy and secure life. They include a certain type of job, relationship, social status, appearance, possessions. What if we let these images go? And focus on being in this very moment?

Well, “what is a man without ambition?”, you might say.  Would human beings have reached the moon if they did not have ambitions and goals and strived towards it?

The real important question is not whether humans would have reached moon. The real important question is are you at peace right now?

If you are not, and are striving for being happy in a certain point of time in future, there is a good chance that even if you were to reach your goal, you will not be mentally present to enjoy that achievement. You will be working harder to achieve some next future goal. Because you are cultivating a habit of working towards future happiness than finding present happiness.

So you get the picture.

Anyway, here is what you can do to being mindfulness in your life.

  1. Meditate – Cliche. But important. Can’t find time for meditation? That challange will only last for six months. First six months you make time for meditation. For rest of the life, meditation will make time for you. With the increased focus, clarity, you will drop the counterproductive pursuits, unimportant crusades and will find yourself more lighter and free. Download “insight meditation” app on your phone. That will help you get in routine.
  2. Listen – There are plenty of good talks on mindfulness. Search Youtube and podcasts by Joseph Goldstein, John Kabat Zinn. Listen to them while walking ,traveling, relaxing. Read books if you are more into reading. There are plenty of blogs.
  3. Plan for mindful moments – May be set a reminder or two on your phone every day? All you do in that moment come back to your immediate sensations. How does it feel? Is it cold? Hot? Fan or A/c blowing? Are there any sensations of sights, sounds? physical sensations? Try not to judge. Just let them be there.

Why Bad Things Happen to Good People?


Ah, just some random musing today.

The title question has always puzzled me and I am sure to thousands or millions of people before me. Why bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. If good and ethical behavior is no insurance against misfortune and pain, then what point is it?

Religions explain this unexplained balance is by introducing the concept of afterlife and almighty.

We cannot explain what we see,  so we conclude there must be something we can explain but cannot see, with the assumption that balance must be preserved. If we cannot explain things in terms of actions of humans and animals around us, then there must be something or someone beyond seen life i.e. God. If we cannot explain the contents of life of humans and animals, then there must be life beyond death, i.e. afterlife.

A while back I posted the Story of Tao. About how your perception is a “catch-up” between your expectations and state of the world. And your expectations can change and the same state of the world is interpreted totally differently by you.

On one of my walks, I stumbled upon an hypothesis. Ethical behavior is not so much about avoiding bad experiences and pain. They simply cannot be avoided. Good and bad is part of life. It will always be there.

But with ethical behavior you will find yourself in cognitive resonance with the universe. You will gain insights and wisdom. That will eventually lead to enlightenment.

If you were to keep an account of material gains, it will be pretty much the same for ethical and unethical behavior in the long run.

If you are unethical, you will find yourself in a state of “cognitive dissonance” with the universe. This will lead to ignorance, clouded vision, muddied intellect and loss of freedom.

Some days back, I had read an article about management styles. How the symptoms of bad management when managers are trying to control too much are ironically same as symptoms of too little control. This is a situation where cognitive dissonance can happen. It’s a level of wisdom that can lead you to discern the right thing from symptoms.

What use is this wisdom if we cannot avoid pain? Tremendous. Answers Buddha. This is where the gem of Mahayana philosophy comes in. There is a distinction between pain and suffering. Pain is inevitable but suffering is optional. Pain is a sensation, an experience, an activity of nature. Suffering is an activity of mind. For an enlightened mind which is perfectly at peace, there is no suffering in the gravest pain.

For good and bad people pain remains the same. But for good people, suffering goes on diminishing.

Thinking “Thoreau”ly


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“Perfect disease is as good as perfect health, where mind continuously confirms to your body.”- Henry David Thoreau

The quote strikes me for the tremendous wisdom wrapped in simplicity. No heavy words, no abstract terms, no fancy metaphors, no overly long convoluted sentence. In 15 words Thoreau puts forward a theory equivalent to theory of relativity for philosophy. Peace and joy can be found not only when the world confirms to your expectation, but also when your expectations confirm to the world.

On one of my walks, I wondered if this quote can be further extended. Perfect misfortune is as good as perfect fortune, because in face of overwhelming misfortune, you will let go of your struggle. Result? You will be left with less desires. Ergo, more fulfillment. I have seen proof. I used to volunteer at hospice facility and some of the patients who have end stage cancer indeed look peaceful. Yes, they have episodes of pain. But apart from that they have plenty of peaceful moments. Because there is no burden of struggle of survival. No conflict. No uncertainty. Only one thing to deal with – pain.

I remember a time when I was going to catch a flight. The time was getting close and I was rushing like crazy. Rushing, rushing, rushing and when I reach the airport, I realize that I am at the wrong terminal. The reality that I have missed the flight hit me and what followed was a sense of peace. My mind had just confirmed to the state of this world.

This way of thinking is hard to digest in the world we live in, which values pursuit above peace. Till that time, people like Thoreau who are way ahead of their times will be considered foolish. Because a perfect genius is often like a perfect fool, because both fail to do conventional thinking.

 

 

There is No Devil!


The more I think and see, the more I experience this world. This is what it is leading me to believe. There is no devil. But there are angels gone wild. A disproportionate number of pain and grief in the world is tied to the actions or choices rooted in good intentions. And there is a fraction of pain that is caused by course of nature, unavoidable and unpredictable.

I have tried to read both sides of stories for several conflicts in the world, current and past. Most violence seems to come from the idealistic visions of harmony. Most wars are just clash between just two difference ideas of peace. Most hate is just love blinded by fear.

Most pain seems to come from ethical debt and the collateral damage that results from it.

And there is no such thing as unethical behavior. There is only ethical debt. At times we don’t understand the consequences of our choices. At other times we do understand we are doing something wrong. We just have a justification.

Often a man plans an ambitious conquest with the desire of more power and in process ends up making a series of unethical choices. The justification in his own mind that “Once I have extra power, I will do more good and more than repay this ethical debt.” But power corrupts. Minds, ideas, opinions drift from what they were before becoming powerful. This ethical debt is forgotten. But it lingers in the minds of who suffered the damage.

Or else, imagine a mother wanting to protect her child. She understands that her child can get Malaria from a mosquito bite. Thus she decides to go on rampage and kill all the mosquitoes in the world. In the process, she disturbs the cycle of nature so much that ultimately her child is ends up suffering more. We are all like this mother when it comes to our family, our religion, our country. We go to extreme in some cases just to be protective, and the harm that comes from the collateral damage we inflict often outweighs the protection offered by the action.

Thus I am coming to believe, there are no devils. There is only forgotten ethical debt and collateral damage that came out of it. And then there is conscience blinded by the love of self image. We like ourselves when we are killing the devil. We like ourselves when we are fixing the world.

So we just badly want a devil, and make one up from the circumstances at hand.

Movie Of Life – A Thought Experiment


I am listening to some Alan Watts seminars lately. For those of you who don’t know who he is, he is perhaps the best interpreter of Eastern philosophy I have ever come across, and my pool of comparison includes many people from the East itself. He was an authority on comparative religion and gave many seminars explaining Eastern philosophies to Western world. He was an authority of Buddhism and Hinduism.

Watts is especially master of thought experiments and analogies. While listening to him, I thought of an thought experiment myself to understand the perpetual future driven life we all are living.

Imagine you go to a movie theater. You see many many queues. You don’t understand which queue to stand in. But many people are arriving. So you take a quick guess and pick one. It turns out that that is not the queue for the movie ticket, but that is queue just to get a ticket to stand in some other queue. You convince yourself that that other queue must be the movie ticket queue. So you get your ticket and go to the next queue. But that is not the movie queue either.

So all day you keep on standing in queues, only to get a ticket to stand in some other queue. You keep cursing yourself that only if you stood in the correct queue, you would get to the movie quicker. And you have been told that it’s a great movie.

At the end of the day you realize that this whole thing itself was a movie and you were part of it. You had a chance at every moment to make the movie more interesting. To stop standing in queues and to do something real. But you had convinced yourself that the movie is out there somewhere, and your role is passive one, of that of just a watcher.

You also convinced yourself that only thing you need to do to get good entertainment was to figure out which line to stand into. But instead it turns out you had to just start acting.

Or what if you didn’t even realize by the end of the day that your life itself was a movie and you were just blaming yourself for getting bored the whole day just because you could not figure out the “perfect” queue to stand in.

Don’t we all live life like that? Just waiting for another day, another event, another person, another job, another house, another car, to make us happy? Instead shouldn’t we realize that happiness is something to be “done”, an active process, rather than to be “received”, a passive process?

Birth Of A Habit-II


This is a second part of my previous post Birth of a Habit.

Anxieties and phobias is one thing. But I am beginning to think even a religious belief is a habit. You are going through some tough time. You end up feeling lost. You pray to God and good stuff happens. Then you end up thinking that the good stuff happened because you prayed.

A while back, I read an article, a scientific explanation of the parting of the sea miracle by Moses. The scientists said in a particular rare combination  of temperature, pressure, wind and land topography, it might look like a body of water is parting itself.

I remember reading about this parting of river in birth stories of Krishna as well as parting of water by Moses.

These seemingly random events happened at just the right time must have acted as tremendous enforcer of belief. Looking at a rare event of water parting, the folks would be totally willing to believe that this is divine hand at play.

So this would serve as “anchor” event for the religion. Then later on with just enough amount of favorable coincidences, the religious belief would get enforced as habit. If the situation around the time of this anchor event is gloomy, anarchic, troubled times, then the anchor event shines even more on this dark background. Soon people believing in that religion come together as a community and make good things happen. The credit to making these good things is again given back to the religious belief/prophet/god/book/doctrine. The religion grows. It’s kind of ironic to think that the god did not make miracle happen, the miracle gave birth to a God. But that might be true.

But the world does not walk on a line, it walks in a circle. So sooner or later the statistical balance is restored. More events go against the belief than for. The religious belief, or habit rather habit of believing in that prophet/god/book/doctrine weakens. People open up their minds again.

Almost every religion seems to have walked this path of one major anchor event (or a small set of these) followed by many man made achievements whose success is attributed to the religious belief. Different religions we see around us are in different phases of their lifecycle, like stars born in galaxy. Sooner of later all will meet the same fate.