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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.

Mindfulness ! What is it?


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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.

Mindfulness – 30 Seconds of Burning


I was istening to Gangaji’s podcast. She is a new age guru whose message strogly resembles that of mindfulness. Her voice is pretty soothing. Her words are down to earth and insightful.

She says something that catches my ear. “If you practice desire, you suffer.” That message bears remarkable resemblence to Buddha’s preaching that “Trishna, or desire, is the root cause of all suffering.” Buddhist school of thoughts defines suffering as anything when your feelings take a course other than the natural course. Extreme joy or extreme pain is both consiered suffering. We may be surprised to find extreme joy put in the same basket of extreme pain, but the sensation of extreme joy will eventually run out and to the human mind conditioned to repeat the pleasurable sensation, lack of repetition of that sensation will feel like pain. That’s how I understand it.

Many a Zen Masters between Gangaji and Buddha have uttered similar words. “Feel desire passing through your mind, like wind passes through the tree leaves.” Another master declares. “Feel your body shaking like the tree does. And after the desire has passed, feel the stillness that follows.”

I decided to launch an experiment to understand the anotomy of desire. I decided that when an impulse occurs, I will let myself burn in that impulse for 30 seconds. For 30 seconds, I will not act on impulse, but will try to “feel the desire” fully as it passes through my body, like the wind passes through the tree. This thirty seconds was measured on watch at first. But pretty soon I got a god idea of how long is 30 seconds a I started going by the gut feeling. That way I wasn’t busy looking at the watch and I was free to focus on the impulse/desire.

First opportunity appeared when the desire to eat came knocking. I sat still for 30 seconds. Trying to focus on my body and mind. I found my mind racing through the possible food choices. There was increased salivation. There was a sensation of hunger in stomach. There was a slight feeling of tiredness. The thirty seconds passed and I went to eat.

Then I remembered my 30 seconds resolution when an impulse to play video game showed up. There was tightening of hand muscles as if I was preparing for a battle, there was slight increase in heart beat. My mind revisited the lessons I learned while playing the same game last time, just so that I will score higher.

With each impulse, there were some physiological changes, some psychological changes. Some impulses had triggers, like when I wanted to avoid thinking about unwanted or stressful subjects, I went and searched Internet for positive news or funny videos.

After witnessing several impulses, and allowing myself to burn in the impulse for 30 seconds, I am understanding that there is a pattern. In case of impulses, there is a sudden build up where there is a strong urge to crave to the impulse. Then there is a platau, less intense than the peak of impulse, where I still desire, but I can be ok doing letting go. Then sometimes there is a moment when the impulse starts receding. Or I go and seek the object of craving.

I realize that I am not so much interested in the object of the desire. All I want is to go from the point of wanting something to the point of not wanting it. The foregone conclusion is that only way to make that transition happen is to have that thing. The 30 second burning allowed me to question that assumption. I realized that about 20% of my impulses run out of steam if I stay with them for full 30 seconds. I get to the point of not wanting things without having them.

And there is stillness that follows 30 seconds of burning. A stillness more still than the stillness after fulfillment. A stillness that does not carry the seeds of turbulence within itself.

“Thoughts Feelings Sensations” meditation


For a last few days, I am trying something. Can’t say this is anything new. May be I reframed it in my own words and thus it appears new to me.

It’s called thoughts-feelings-sensations meditation.

Our mind is continuously busy categorizing things and putting them in buckets. A mind that is idle goes crazy. Like a bicycle has to keep moving in order to remain upright, the mind has to keep moving in order to exist. Or so it feels.

Meditation, generally the practice of quieting the mind, is difficult for me. I get distracted too much and going from all this noise to no noise seems like a big task.

Thus, I created this very simple task for my mind. Sit quietly and anything that arises, just put it in one of the three buckets. Thoughts, feelings or sensations. This simple task frees up a lot of consciousness that is taken by mind when it’s multitasking, busy remembering things, sorting things out in hundreds of buckets and going in judgmental whirlwinds.

This way seems to work for me. After a while, I begin to feel relaxed. A thought is called out as thought and the pressure to react to that thought assuming it a reality is gone. A feeling is called out as feeling and does not automatically translate into a behavior response, which may be a thought or chain of thoughts.

It’s when I realize how thoughts give rise to thoughts and things can cascade into chain of thoughts, some cascading so unconscious that the beginning and end thought seem to arise randomly. And some behavior responses that seem like autopilot response are often realized as choices that fly under the radar of attention and memory.

So, back to thoughts-feelings-sensations world. Feel of soft keys on my finger. The whirring sound of air conditioner. The wonder of who will read these words.

And that followed by silence.

Mindfulness Meditation – The Car In Neutral


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I am practicing mindfulness meditation for some time now.  I have to say, the single best thing I have done to myself in last several years is to join a mindfulness course. From what I read and practiced, here are a few tips I wanted to share.

1. Mindfulness is like putting your car in neutral. If you find yourself distracted or not mindful, you don’t pressure yourself in beating yourself to be mindful. If mind is like a car, and if getting distracted in thoughts is like getting the car in gear, then trying to beat your mind into being mindful again is like putting the car in reverse gear. You are still giving it momentum, just in opposite direction. That is equally useless.

Instead just be gentle and bring back your mind to mindfulness. That is like putting the car in neutral. Every time you find it is in gear, put it in neutral. Eventually the car of your mind runs out of momentum and simply drifts along with the flow of the world. That is indeed a very peaceful experience.

2. When you realize you have experienced one moment of mindfulness, the immediate desire is to control the mindfulness and to perpetuate it. Right there, you are not being mindful. Any attempt to think yourself to mindfulness is not mindfulness. It cannot be a logic. It cannot be an achievement. It can only be experience in the present moment.

3. While practicing the meditation part, many people overlook a very important aspect of mindfulness. It’s stopping the self abuse. One part of you beating up another part of you for any reason seem like a productive thing in the short term. But it backfires in the long run. Being kind to yourself, allowing you to be human, forgiving yourself for not being the ideal image of yourself in your own mind, is a giant step forward. It’s not about writing yourself a blank check to indulge in unhealthy habits. It’s about realizing that sometimes the attempts to beat yourself to be different, say more healthy, result in a distress. That distress and self criticism creates a need for distraction, which leads you to unhealthy habits.

4. Mindfulness is no tool to unlock some secret treasure chest. You cannot be successful in mindfulness. Because success implies judgement. Judgement implies the dual experience of object being evaluated, i.e. a mental state and the evaluator, something else. In real mindfulness, there is no judgement, and no object and evaluator standing apart of each other. Mindfulness is neither means nor end. It is just a direct experience of reality.

5. Every now and then you will find suddenly your muscles relaxing. Like your jaw or lower back or neck. Your mind will try to frame this experience and to reproduce it next time. When you start meditation the next day, you will find your mind already sitting there in anticipation. “Are the muscles going to relax now? Not yet? How about now? ” That is the time to simply be mindful of this anticipation and feel amused.

6. It’s time to stop reading about mindfulness and start practicing. No amount of literature or discourse will equal to the experience.

(The image is of one of the 2000 year old Buddhist meditation caves near Mumbai, India)

My Brain In Meditation


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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

How Meditation Calms Your Mind


Recently I am doing meditation somewhat regularly. I am making some interesting observations.

I am practicing what is called transcendental meditation, where you just keep repeating a word in your mind. When I begin it, I don’t see any changes for a few minutes. Then out of nowhere, I feel muscles of some part of my body relaxing. Usually it is shoulders or back.  Until those muscles are relaxed, I don’t even notice they were tense. Then it happens at few more places in my body. Also there comes a moment eventually, when I have similar experience in my mind. Suddenly the chatter of thoughts stops and there is a feeling of silence. I feel calm and quiet.

Often I find myself waiting for those moments of relaxation to happen. But their occurrence is not under my control. It is somewhat spontaneous and non-linear. Non linear in the sense that sometimes those moments happen in a quick succession. Sometimes they happen with long duration between them. Sometimes they happen quickly, sometimes they happen after a while.

What I have realized is this. Usually there is a constant thread of verbalization in our mind. We are sensing things. The sensation is converted in feeling, the feeling is converted in thoughts via this process of verbalization. Often times this verbalization goes berserk and thoughts give rise to more thoughts, bypassing the whole sensation-feeling-thoughts factory. When thoughts are generated from thoughts, thinking happens at lot more rapid place.

But with a constant repeat of a word in our mind, we throw a monkey wrench in the constant process of verbalization. Eventually it comes to halt. That’s when we experience peace.

Modern scientific research is discovering benefits of meditation. It helps lower your blood pressure, reduces stress level, helps cure depression. Overall, it brings back your mind back at center.