Category Archives: Mindfulness

The joy of nothingness

As a small child, I used to enjoy watching the rain drops fall from the roof top in to the collecting water, make small bubbles that burst with a small ‘pop’, making concentric circles that travel outward to collide with countless others before disappearing in to the water. By then, several new drops arrive and the process goes on and on without an interruption.

As I simply watch this for a while, something strange used to happen. There was a strange feeling of peace and joy and there was nothing but the continuous birth and death of water bubbles, countless circles and the distinct ‘pop’ sound.

There used to be several small black ants that are caught up the sudden downpour, frantically swimming away to safety. The ant was definitely not enjoying this as I did. That thought made me feel different to be watching the whole thing as is, not affected by it. Strangely, watching these rain drops used to bring a sense of detachment in me; that I did not really bother to rescue the ants.

There was something serene and divine about this. If there was someone above who was watching over us, the humans, running around stressed, fighting, cheating, trying to find happiness, chasing fulfillment… wouldn’t he also have the same sense of detachment that I had?

After a very long time, I was in my hometown last month sitting in the verandah and watching the falling raindrops. At first it brought back the strong memories from my childhood and soon I lost myself again in it. Quite some time should have passed, when it occurred to me that it must have been very long that I indulged in something so trivial and useless; thanks to the industry that I am part of and the fast world that I live in.

The serenity was there, the peace was there and I was lost.

It was a message on impermanence from the heavens. It was pure perception – me, the bubbles- nothing more, nothing less

It was zen

Rain drops

Rain drops

I remembered this today as I watched this TED video the_world_s_most_boring_television_and_why_it_s_hilariously_addictive. This is about the world’s most boring television show and the concept of slow TV. This talk was delivered by Norwegian television producer Thomas Hellum who is behind some of famous ‘boring’ programs aired by the NRK Television. They did shows around very trivial things such as a live telecast of a 7hr train journey (three cameras –one at the front and one each at each side – There was no story, no commentary, just whatever the camera saw and heard), an18 hr fishing expedition and a 5.5day ferry voyage. The Norwegian president appears in the video stating that he has been glued to his chair for 5.5 days (btw, he is 82).Thomas Hellum says that they are planning to live telecast many such trivial things such as knitting, cooking etc etc.

There is something very beautiful about this. They are showing things as is and you see something as is, real time, with nothing to expect, nothing to logically process. If you can overcome the initial barrier of judgment and rejection, something wonderful happens. You begin to thoroughly enjoy and at some point all the noise in the head begins to settle down.

And every great religion has told you how nice it feels when that damn noise stops.

This is like a new age zen and I believe increasingly there is an absolute need for people to fully engage in something that is trivial, of no use as such, logically unconvincing…This might probably be the next booming industry, a technology powered zen at a very large scale.

This will be the new religion and spirituality of the world.

afterthought: I watched the film PK over the weekend. If you compare to all the great ‘alien’ films, this alien was terrible. The alien here looks like any of us, talked Bhojpuri Hindi, ate Samosa’s, feel jealous when he learns that heroine was in love with someone else..The film is one of the biggest hits in the history of Bollywood, I think primarily because there is not much of logic in there. Once the great burden to ‘understand’ is not there, there is real enjoyment.

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Naughty Children Meditation

Compulsive thinkers have a tough time meditating. Better you are at thinking, harder it is to let go off it.

I have had this problem ever since I started meditating. What typically happens is something like this: I sit down to meditate and watch my thoughts. There are thoughts running and as I watch them, I come across that brief interval between them. For a moment, it looks like I am getting it. Wrong. Unobserved, there is this voice at the back of my head that says ‘It’s working, the gap is there’. Then there is another part of the mind that’s watching this and he says ‘Not yet, that’s a thought there’. Now there is another part that is analyzing the whole situation and says something like this – this isn’t working for you.

Then I remember something I read about meditation in a book and a part of my mind commenting that it’s not all that correct. Then I realize that I am again caught up in thinking. I let go off thinking again and again get back to being the ‘watcher’. And the struggle goes on and on, with some success after few iterations.

They say during meditation, you have to be like a gatekeeper. Watching every thought that comes in. But I realized that my mind was something like a house with several doors and windows. While I am watching the front door, there were thoughts entering through the backdoor and windows. They just needed that split second where my attention was elsewhere. While these sessions did help me get some insight in to the working of the mind, it has always been a challenge to be free of thoughts.

In olden days, people had not-so-much complicated minds as we do and it would have been easier for them to watch the mind as a single entity. But people like us whose primary occupation is thinking, have much more complex minds with several distinct faculties. Most of our lives are made of thinking and it’s hard to drop it – it’s like dying.

Over a period of time, I could see that these thoughts were not just random, but had some specific purposes behind them. For example, some thoughts were about planning, somewhere concerned about making sense of something happening in life, somewhere concerned about some dreams in the future etc. So it was like there were some little entities in the mind with certain purpose/objectives and they were responsible for specific thought patterns. They together made up the mind.

So if I were to really watch my mind, I should be watching each of these entities first and when each of them becomes quiet, I would be a step closer to a silent mind.

But how do we do this? I devised this meditation technique – Naughty Children Meditation- which is an improvised version of existing technique of watching the thought stream.

The first challenge was to identify all those little entities. I listed them down and gave them unique names so that I could identify them easily. Here is the list with names and some descriptions for you to easy understand

Thinker – One who keeps thinking, random thoughts, who keeps the thinking process going

Commenter – One who makes those subtle commentaries in the head as you carry on with your daily chores (e.g.’I am cutting this pasting it here..)

Planner – One who plans the next activities (e.g. ‘Oh, I have to send a mail to my manager’)

Reactor– One who reacts to situations, people (e.g. How can he behave like that)

Watcher– One who is watching what is happening in the mind (e.g. My mind is very clouded)

Analyzer – One who is analyzing what is going on in the mind, in a life situation and in your whole life (e.g. if the situation continues like this, I will be stuck in this job)

Rememberer – One who remembers events, people, traces of memory, something you forgot to do etc. (e.g. remembering a conversation with a friend this morning)

Dreamer – One who dreams about the future, situations (e.g. riding a Porsche or becoming famous)

Worrier– One who is worrying about things, situations either at the moment or in the future (e.g. what to do with my irresponsible son?)

Wanter – One who wants things or thinking of desires, things to be achieved, pleasures etc. (e.g. beautiful house, I want to live in such a one or I need to have a coffee now)

Whiner – One who is complaining about situations, people (e.g. why is that I am held responsible every time)

Competitor – One who is competing with others, comparing, wanting to be better than others (e.g. he thinks he knows everything, let me show him)

Sensor– One who senses or feels (e.g. he is being aggressive)

Fearer – One who is afraid, fearful thoughts, anxieties (e.g. what happens if he shouts at me)

The Bear – This is an odd one in the lot. This is that entity that tightens your body when unobserved.

The first thing to do is to familiarize with each of these entities. Each of them have a specific purpose and all the thoughts that arise can be traced to one of these. (It’s likely that you may want to add your own entities in to the list – like Regretter – One who regrets some actions in the past.

This is how the meditation can be done

Imagine that each of these entities are like little naughty children in a class room. They are sitting in front of you (visualize), and you are simply watching them. They are so naughty that they will talk the moment your attention is not on them. But if you catch them, they remain silent. At the same time, they are small little children and if they are caught, you are not going to punish them. You are going to simply laugh (or chuckle or smile) when you catch them talking.

So this is what you do. Sit in your favorite meditation posture and imagine that you are watching these little naughty children, who are sitting in front of you. Now when a thought comes, identify the naughty entity behind it (compare it with children taking). For e.g. if the thought is regarding something that you need to do, then it comes from the planner. Notice it (look at him) and laugh (or smile). The next thought, say is a commentary about what just happened in the mind. You know it is from the Commenter. Just watch him and laugh and leave.

Just keep doing this. When you look at them, they become quite.

You might also sense some tightness in the body – this is the work of The Bear. Just watch him and smile and he will let go off his grip.

Very soon, a these naughty children will become quite while your attention is placed on who is ‘talking’.

Then something profound happens, the whole mind stops or vanishes and you transcend the mind, so to say.

Meditation is supposed to be effortless, while there is some effort involved here. But that effort is only meant to overcome the initial difficulty that you face. You are watching the mind not as a single entity, but as different entities that does different things. This helps because then the thoughts cannot enter through the backdoor, unnoticed. Once a these entities are silent, the whole mind is silent and then onwards it is effortless.

Remember, playfulness is the key here. Visualizing these entities as little naughty children is extremely important; it’s like a game that you are paying with them. And you do not react, you smile at their naughtiness. Laughter or Chuckle or Smile creates that little gap that you need not to get caught up in the thinking, but to be able to watch it.

One problem that you might find is to identify these entities precisely. Do not worry about it, start with a few that you can figure out. Read through the list carefully again and you should get it. It does not really matter if you make a mistake, the whole objective of meditation is to transcend the mind and it does not matter what the content of the thoughts are and where they come from. Let this not deter you from making an attempt.

Initially you will need to do some sitting practice. Once you get a hang of it, you will catch those little ones in your daily lives. When you get angry at someone in traffic you will know that the ‘Reactor’ is talking and that awareness is enough to silence him and that smile is enough to transcend it.

Try it for yourselves. God bless.

Pappus Flower Meditation

Pappus is a tropical plant that disperses its seeds with the help of wind. The seeds have fine hairy structures around them that help them drift in the wind and are contained in pods till they are ready. Once the seeds are mature, the pods burst open exposing the seeds to the wind. The wind then carries these seeds to far off places. Watching Pappus flowers drift gently in the air and chasing them has been a n activity that I loved as a child. There was some gentleness to the whole affair and the pappus flowers probably reminded my young mind of ‘freedom’.
IMG489
Here is a short video on that shows the pods opening and the flowers being gently carried away by the wind. I recommend you take a look at this, so that you understand the context of this post.

I was on my way back to Bangalore last Sunday. As the bus was passing through the Bandipur wildlife sanctuary, we pulled up the window shutters in anticipation of sighting wild animals. A strong current of air was gushing in through the open window and hitting me all over the face.

Some time passed like this, me just watching out of the window and the constant gush of air against my face. But that was not all. All of a sudden I became aware of my thinking and I realized that I was actually caught up in very deep unconscious thinking. For some time I simply watched the thought stream; there were thoughts coming in one after another.

So now here I was sitting by the window, the wind and thoughts popping out from somewhere deep within. I thought – what if the wind just blows away the thoughts as they surface?

Precisely at that moment the Pappus flower came up in my mind; I saw the pods opening and the flowers are gently let out in to the wind.

I closed my eyes and imagined that the wind was actually rushing over my mind and was carrying away my thoughts as and when they appear. This was easy to imagine because of the strong gush of wind against my face (now against my mind). I let go off all thoughts one by one and any new thought came up, it was immediately carried away by the wind..

..…till the point there was nothing left. There was only the wind. Not even ‘me’

The purpose of every meditation is to transcend the mind and that happens when the mind is still. There are hundreds of techniques, practiced by several spiritual traditions all over the world that help one to go beyond thinking. I have personally practiced several of them and have had mixed results. I think the problem many times is that the ‘real’ feel is missing. The only reason why letting wind carry away my thoughts worked was because the feeling of the wind was very real. Then it was easy to just let go.

So we have a new meditation – I will call it Pappus Flower Meditation.

Back in Bangalore I tried to do this again. I tried to imagine that there was a strong gush of wind agaist my face and my thoughts were blown away. That didn’t work. To keep that feeling, probably I had to exert some effort that made the letting go difficult. For this to work, the feeling of the wind has to be very real. I then used a table fan to simulate the gush of wind and that worked perfectly well.

So here is the recoomednation for you to practice this at home
Sit in any meditative posture with eyes closed, facing a table fan. The fan must be running at good speed for the wind to hit your face with some force. Imagine the wind gushing over your mind and blowing away your thoughts (you can use the Pappus symbol if that helps. Imagine your mind like a pappus plant with the thoughts like the flowers gently coming out of the pods). Don’t get caught up in thoughts, just let them be gently carried away by the wind.
Just be witness to this whole thing. No strain, no force. The wind is blowing so strong that it naturally blows away your thoughts; there is no effort from your side required. Just let go.

Then, once the whole clutter clears, you will simply be there as the watcher!
have fun!

Plants do understand…

There was this plant in our balcony (I do not know what is it called) which bears (supposed to)small beautiful flowers in white and reddish-brown. For whatever reason, the plant had not borne flowers for last 2 years or  more. Eventually I had moved it to a corner which didn’t have as much sunlight for me to keep other plants.

Since my family was away for the whole of May, I was taking care of the plants. It had been a while and I tried to make some changes like shifting some plants here and there, pruning etc. Then I noticed this plant and realized that I hadn’t seen it flower for a long time. Instinctively I told the plant – See, I will give you two weeks and if you don’t flower, I am going to throw you out of this place and plant something else instead.

I said it as if I say to another human being and really meant it. I had recently read an article on the great scientist JC Bose, who had proved that plants also have emotions like humans, which can be measured. I had also read about an experiment where a scientist repeatedly assured a cactus plant that there was no danger and after some time the plant shed its thorns. May be they were at the back of my mind.

I had forgotten about all this until yesterday when my wife (they are back now) showed me that the plant was blossoming. When I remembered what I had said, I could sense a mild shock travelling up my spine. The plant had buds on almost every branch.

I can’t believe that this is a coincidence. Did the plant understand what I said? If yes, what is the magnitude of the error we commit by cutting trees, pruning, uprooting and the host of other crimes that we inflict upon them?

I would like to believe that the plants choose to be silent; in the state of pure being.

Dreams and Feelings

So much has been written about dreams, but it’s still a great experience to dream. What do dreams convey? I have had several experiences where subtle feelings are expressed in dreams. Here are two recent dreams.

1)This happened few days back. I had been working in the balcony in the evening and left my laptop there. As I went to bed at night I remembered that the laptop was left at the balcony and someone could steal it. I got up, brought the laptop in and went to sleep. And that night I had the following dream.

I had boarded a bus at a strange hilly region. The bus had travelled some distance when I realized that I had boarded the wrong one. I decided to get down. My bags, including the laptop bag, was kept at the back of the bus. As I moved to the back to pick them up, some strange people rushed past me. I reached the back to realize that the bags were missing and then it struck me that those people who rushed past had stolen my bags and laptop.

I think I woke up at that point….

2) I had an early flight to catch today morning. The taxi was to arrive at 5.00AM and this meant that I had to wake up at 4.30. Waking up early is something that I really hate.

I had set the alarm at 4.30 before I went to bed. I was in deep sleep when I heard the message alert tone from my mobile phone. I immediately understood that it was the message from the taxi company with the chauffeur details and confirming the pickup. The alarm was yet to ring (but I knew it was close) and I drifted back to sleep. Then I had this dream.

I was at some strange place with a group of friends. We were all leaving to some other place in what looked like early morning. Then suddenly I looked  at my watch and realized that it was only 1:30 AM (or so) and we had misunderstood the time. I informed my friends and proceeded to my room to sleep further.

The alarm went off and I was awake.

What had happened is when I heard the message alert tone, subconsciously I knew that I will need to wake up shortly. But then the subconscious mind expressed its desire to sleep through the dream

 What remains in the mind after the dreams is a very subtle feeling. In the first case it was fear and the in the second case it was a relief. Probably the unconscious mind attempts to express its feelings through dreams!

Positive Affirmations

I was reading an article on Positive Affirmations. Positive Affirmations is a popular (somewhat) technique used to create a strong subconscious (or unconscious) beliefs by repetition. This is touted as a method to create favorable unconscious patterns and also to remove unwanted patterns from the subconscious mind. The method is something like this. If you want to become wealthy, you spend some time everyday repeating something like “I am very wealthy” or something similar. The results are better if combined with visualization. For e.g in this case you also visualize yourself living in a palatial mansion or driving an expensive car or at your dream holiday spot. It’s said that when you create such a positive affirmation in your unconscious mind, it’s bound to happen almost automatically.

 The method had been long used in the ‘mantra’ tradition of the eastern cultures. A ‘mantra’ is a short phrase with or without a meaning and one is required to chant the mantra regularly for a long period. What happens is after a while the conscious mind loses all its interest in the mantra and then it sinks in to your unconscious mind. The unconscious mind understands ‘sound’ and the mantra is typically made of chosen words or syllables which can produce a certain effect. In Hindu tradition, there are mantras for all kind of things: like aquiring intelligence, acquiring money, removing obstacles etc.

 Coming back to the Positive Affirmations. The principle used is the same. When I read it for the first time, it looked pretty logical. But when I thought about it more, I see a catch. What one is trying to do here is to change/create one habit pattern keeping the rest intact. And if this happens, perhaps few other patterns will change unconsciously. It’s something like this. I put an affirmation in to my mind that I want to be wealthy and it becomes my nature. Then I figure out that if I need to be wealthy, it’s going to be at the expense of lot of other things, things that I enjoy doing, time with my family, interests of other people etc. But then I don’t have a choice because the drive to become wealthy is now an unconscious drive in me. Will I have done something good or bad?

 The fundamental question is- is it sufficient to change one thing at a time or is the change holistic? There is definitely a difference between the way eastern traditions and western philosophy approach change. In the western approach one tries to create positive habit patterns and remove the negative habit patterns. They lead to success and well-being in the future. But in the eastern tradition, the idea is not to classify patterns in to good and bad, but to step out of them completely. And the well-being that results in now and here.

Mosquitoes and a lesson on Surrender

I was few minutes in to my evening mediation, when I felt that familiar prick on my hand.

I was away for a few days. The windows of the room were left open by mistake and apparently many mosquitoes (they are very common in Bangalore) had found their way in. And I did not realize this until I sat down to meditate.

I had had a very disturbed weekend and was looking forward to a deep mediation to set my mind right. And it was then the distraction came in the form of a mosquito. The moment it bit me, there was this deep reflex to raise my hand and kill it. But one of the first rules in meditation is to keep the body absolutely still. I decided to ignore the discomfort, but in a meditative state the pain (and the irritation) was disproportionately high.

Some time pass by and the urge in me to lift mind hand and strike it was so overpowering and finally unable to hold it any further, I finally raised my hand and struck it. As I went back my meditation, to my horror I found there were many of them now. I was in a deep fix. They were biting me on my back, hands, legs and every other exposed place. And having given once in to the urge to move, I didn’t want to move.

Perhaps I should just accept it was my next thought. I could see that my mind was not too occupied with the problem. I was thinking about it and also concerned that my meditation would now be a failure. The more I thought about it, the more intense was the problem and more intense was the urge to open my eyes and kill all of them.

OK. Let me just accept it fully, I said to myself. I paid complete attention to the pain and irritation of the mosquito bite and dropped any thinking about it. (At some point I even tried to imagine that I was loving the bite, which I think did not work well). It was somewhat tricky at the beginning. As I brought my attention to a point of bite, they would fly and settle at another spot. But then after a while, I was able to simply pay attention to the bites and was not thinking about them. The pain seemed much exaggerated, but that didn’t matter.

I had a really wonderful meditation.

After I was done, while driving to the restaurent for dinner I was thinking about it. There is this deep urge in us to run away from unpleasant experiences. This is what makes many of us leave jobs, leave partners or pick up quarrels of trivial issues. True, there is this strong unconscious reactive pattern that triggers an emotional response to unpleasant situations. But what happens if that is ignored? The mind picks it and start making a story about it. The objective of the story is to convince you not to be foolish by not reacting.

An emotion is actually very short lived. But what gives it a life in time is the thinking. If the emotion is just accepted as it is without any thinking around it, it’s great feeling. There is nothing personal about it (good/bad, acceptable/unacceptable) it’s just a feeling that would vanish as quickly as it came.

This is what the Buddhist’s call surrender.

(Note: After the session, I did kill all those mosquitoes I could lay my hands on. Probably compassion is still farther on the path)