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How to be Mindful?

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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.

Mindfulness ! What is it?


Long long back, I was living in Virginia. It was particularly stressful time in my life. On recommendation of a friend, I joined a mindfulness course.

Right on the first day, when the teacher described the classic paradox of mind, the less you try to be happy, the more you are happy, something resonated with me. It was beginning of a journey.

Often times people ask me what is it about. I give an example. Have you been in a situation when you were frantically running to catch a flight or a train? You were huffing and puffing, running with your luggage in hand, ultimately to reach the gate only to realize that the plane has left. Do you remember the sensation? Do you remember the end of the struggle and the wave of peace that follows?

You missed the flight. There is inconvenience. There is extra cost and wasted time. All that caused you to stress out and struggle is still there. But there is no struggle. You have surrendered to reality. Your flight is gone. And you are at peace. You are free to browse the books on the stalls, may be get a coffee.

Mindfulness is realizing that in life there is going to be some pain, some inconvenience, some loss, and there is going to be death. It is being more open, more accepting, less judgmental in face of reality of life. It is realizing that you have missed the flight of immortality, perfection, perpetual gratification. It is dropping the futile and often counterproductive struggles in life and then suddenly finding yourself free to check out life in this very moment. When you process it intellectually, it may sound depressing. But when you let it sink in your body and soul, it is immensely liberating. You stop wasting your energy and you start living the present moment. There is new found peace and joy.

Mindfulness is accepting that you will never be perfect and neither will be the world around you and still having compassion for yourself and the world. Mindfulness is stopping the self abuse and abuse of others in servitude of the fictions in your mind . Mindfulness is not about achieving anything. Mindfulness is stopping to overreact to life like a pendulum that keeps swinging, and coming back at the center. Mindfulness is learning to embrace even negative thoughts, emotions, negative experiences as openly as positive ones. We all have innate capacity to do that. Mindfulness only makes you realize this capacity.

What do I get from mindfulness? Well, freedom. Till I started practicing mindfulness, I was not really living. I was acting out my conditioning and deeply imbibed behavioral patterns. When I was driving and someone cut me, I thought I always had to be angry.  I had my hardwired reasoning why it was necessary, which I was not conscious of, and which caused sort of compulsion. After practicing mindfulness I realized it was more of a choice to be angry and I had many more choices available to respond to the situation. As the judgmental voice in my head takes a back seat, the range of choices I have in a moment is more. This is freedom. This is empowering.

So, what does stopping struggle really mean? Am I not going to put on my clothes and go to office? Am I not going to put on seatbelt or am I not going to save for retirement? Of course I am going to do all of that. It is again game of mind that is taking the idea and extrapolating it to the stratosphere. Mindfulness is all about finding the balance. The middle way ,as Buddha termed it. It’s doing enough, but not too much.

Ultimately, mindfulness is fully embracing the present moment with all it brings, the good, the bad and everything in between.

Anger! An Investigation

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A few days back I was in a situation where I vividly experienced a spike of intense anger. I usually don’t even like to harm insects. But in that moment, the only thing that stopped me from inflicting intense pain on the other person was fear of consequences, legal or otherwise. For a brief moment, I had no shred of empathy left within me. The amount of pain I was willing to inflict on the person in that moment was wildly disproportionate to the pain he inflicted on me.

What exactly happened?

At a shop alongside highway, one person was extremely rude to me.

It would have been alright if at this point if the person involved had taken a softening action. But he did not. What he did was perceived as “lack of concern, lack of empathy” in my mind.

The anger started building. I tried to politely point out his mistake. However my comment was dismissed. And without giving me a chance to fully say things I wanted to say, that person exited the situation entirely.

I was left with seething anger. But he was gone. I boiled for a while. Then I calmed down.

After a while, I took a deep breathe and started to pay attention to my response with curiosity. Here is unwinding of my emotional response. Peeling the onion so to speak.

First there was a feeling of victimization  and unfairness, injustice. Something rightfully belonged to me did not come my way.

Second there was a sensation of lack of empathy towards me.

Now a story was building in my mind. The combined feeling of victimization and lack of empathy led to the projection of future. I feared my own self respect decreasing, me judging myself harshly.

But the most compulsive part of my anger, the part that wanted me to dart out and beat the s**t out of him, came out of a thought that this person, if he gets away, will feel encouraged to do the same thing in future. And he will do it again and again. And he will face no consequences again and again. And the cycle might lead to some kind of apocalypse. This is how I am putting in words, but it was more of a flash thinking.

As if the course of future that was entirely dependent on my response in this moment. If I respond, the situation is corrected. If I do not respond, apocalypse.

This idea of totally diverging future paths of the world, entirely dependent on a very narrow range of choices, is what creates strong compulsion.

But sanity prevailed. I waited out the impulse. And then I was hit with a realization that the future does not diverge that rapidly based on my choices. Universe is very fluid and self correcting. And it always presents me a wide range of choices to be happy and find peace. The bad man will meet his corrective punishment somewhere else. I will be able to move on no matter what.

Those Zen Masters were right again.


My Brain In Meditation


A few days back, I was doing meditation. And I had one very interesting experience.

My eyes closed. My mind still busy, but slowing down. Random images were flowing, morphing in front of my eyes. A dance inside  my brain.

And then I could just feel something. I could feel activity in two parts of my brain. Two distinct parts, which were playing equal role in creating the internal experience. One part was busy creating the images, other part was busy sensing the images. For a very brief period time, there was sensation of two distinct activities and my mind rapidly switching between them.

As soon as I realized the dual mode of my mind, there was that characteristic zap. Suddenly both parts went silent and my brain felt more peaceful. I could feel the drop in brain activity.

This made me think of the whole nature of experience. Is it always like that? Every time there is an experience, there is an “experiencer” and “experiencee” in my brain?

If every experience has such dual neural activity nature, then why did I feel the zap and why after the zap I felt just one single unified peaceful experience? Is the dual neural activity only limited to internal experience? Is this something what neurologists call REM (Rapid Eye Movement) intrusion?

On the philosophical level, is this how my ego works? Just a virtual center of neural activity of all the experiencer parts of my brain? Interesting, because this reminds me of a quote by Alan Watts (not exact words, but mostly right).

” The statement ‘I think, therefore I am’, gave rise to perhaps biggest folly in Western Philosophy, to assign ownership of experience to the ego, which in fact, just another experience. The ‘I’, the very notion of thinker, is nothing but a just thought.”

More questions, but ironically, more peace.

photo credit: AlicePopkorn via photopin cc

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.

Near Life Experience

Back to blogging after a long time. Several things have happened in this much time that have given me a new perspective on life.

I just want to share one of the experiences I had recently. Kind of spiritual.

It was one quiet moment at an airport. I was waiting for flight. I had to wait for a while. It was getting late night. The flight traffic was winding down as well.

I had nothing to do. So I just sat there. Mindfully. Trying not to think of something in the past of future. Just taking in and savoring the present moment. Not judging, not sorting, not analyzing. Just experiencing.

Sometimes I can do it. Sometimes I can’t. When I can do it, it kind of feels like the boat with the engine turned off. Your mind still goes ahead with activity for a while, but then it starts winding down slowly.

This time it happened rather fast. And zap. Something just happened in my brain and it dawned to  me. The whole life that was passing by by me was temporal. I had heard Alan Watts talking about it in his seminars. But right now it just hit me. Everything around me was going up and down, left and right, fluctuating on its own frequency. A big portion of what I was experiencing in the moment was this superimposed temporal waves of sensations. Like a Fourier series in mathematics can express a any  straight line (or any curve for that matter) in a given span as a sum of temporal fluctuating curves, this whole life is temporal. There is no point in trying to fix it, modify it, control it, direct it, in order to keep only part of that tempo that we like. There will always be the other side, the correction, the coming back to root. It’s just built in.

And if you read this, and are proceeding without pausing, you understood it, but it has not hit you. If you want this to hit you, to be unseparable part of your worldview, you need to something like visualize up and down of some particular temporal event hundreds of times. Till your mind is bored and realizes that in good events of today, lie the seeds of disasters tomorrow and the catastrophes of tomorrow, open up the possibilities of most joyful events day after tomorrow.

A leaf of a tree will be scared of autumn only if it wants to hang on to being the same exact leaf. If it is willing to change the way nature wants it to change, autumn and spring are just two sides of the same coin. There is no reason to love spring more than autumn.

We all struggle with this. We all are so fixed on being we, and remaining “we”, we resist this tempo. A large amount of our suffering is born out of this resistance, stopping nature from taking its course, being overly fixated on our identity. Because we believe that this struggle is what will bring us lasting peace. However, ironically our identity remains a tempo as well.

There is an experience beyond being me, beyond looking at this world as an entity to be manipulated so that I can survive. That new experience is a very simple and peaceful sensation, and additionally perhaps a mild sense of curiosity and wonder.

May be that’s real life. Not the everyday struggle.

So it was my real life experience.

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?