Tag 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.

Concepts

What you see in the picture is a dust cover of a book lying on the floor of my living room.

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It’s such a trivial thing to attach any importance to. Even I did not, until this evening, which was the third day that it had been lying there. It caught my attention when I returned from work. The irritation I felt lasted only a brief moment and gave way to amusement as the complexity of what lead to it unfolded in my mind.

I should give you a bit of background first. My wife, my 10-year-old daughter and I live in this apartment. A very clear division of responsibilities exist in our house, which has evolved over a period of time. My wife takes care of all matters at home (though with lot of complaining). I take care of my office work and things outside of home. My daughter lives in her own world of books, games and TV, never crossing her self-drawn boundaries.

My daughter and I are extremely unorganised. We love to scatter things around and literally litter the house. My wife loves to keep the house neat and tidy and we now take it for granted that it is her responsibility to put things in order. This works most of the time, except on few occasions where she feels she has had enough.

My daughter and I are voracious readers. I keep buying books for both us and the result is an overflowing library at home. My wife thinks I am wasting money buying books and keeps gives me a nasty look whenever I do.

Now back to the dust cover lying on the floor. It had been removed from a book and kept in the book shelf.  It must have fallen down (most probably) when my daughter was taking a book out of the shelf. She must have never bothered to put it back, for she considered it was mother’s job to put things in order. My wife must have had enough of this and decided to leave it where it was (books belong to father and daughter and they better learn to take care of it). I come home in the evening and notice the dust cover lying on the floor, but do nothing about it (who ever let it fall should put it back).

No questions asked, no words spoken. All of us went about with our regular affairs; except that none seems to take notice of the dust cover lying on the floor. The next morning I left to office and my daughter to her school. When I return in the evening, the cover was lying there still. Our maid servant was on leave for a few days and I assumed that the house wasn’t vacuumed or mopped.

Another night passed with the dust cover still lying there. I think each of us now where expecting someone else to lose their patience and do something about it.

On the third day I returned home to find the dust cover still lying there and I also saw that it was deliberately left there (the floor was vacuumed and mopped !).

It was when the whole drama dawned on me and I couldn’t help being amused at the complexity of it. I picked up the dust cover and put it back in to the book shelf.

Everything around us, whether important or trivial, in order or out-of-order, on time or delayed, isn’t there or there without a reason. They have complex human egos with hundreds of concepts, playing elaborate games behind the scene.

We are such stuff as dreams are made on, said Prospero in Tempest. But I am sure our lives are made up of such concepts that we are not even aware of.

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’.
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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!

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.

Perception with no mind

We are often so caught up with what is going on inside us that we pay very little attention to what’s around us. Scientists say the human mind looks for some basic details to figure out what the object is and usually we are trained to notice differences. May be in the compulsive need to label / understand the object, we compromise on the quality of perception.

I am reading a book titled “Krishnamurti’s Notebook”. This is a diary written by Jiddu Krishnamurti (the famous philosopher, popularly known as K) in the sixties. K is said to have had a mind which was thoughtless. The depth and richness of the perception has an indescribable beauty and majesty. If you ever want to get a feel of what it means to perceive without the mind (without thinking) look at the one page I am reproducing below:

November 17th

The earth was the colour of the sky; the hills, the green, ripening rice fields, the trees and the dry, sandy river-bed were the colour of the sky; every rock on the hills, the big boulders, were the clouds and they were the rocks. Heaven was the earth and the earth heaven; the setting sun had transformed everything. The sky was blazing fire, bursting in every streak of cloud, in every stone, in every blade of grass, in every grain of sand. The sky was ablaze with green, purple, violet, indigo, with the fury of flame. Over that hill it was a vast sweep of purple and gold; over the southern hills a burning delicate green and fading blues; to the east there was a counter sunset as splendid in cardinal red and burnt ochre, magenta and fading violet. The counter sunset was exploding in splendor as in the west; a few clouds had gathered themselves around the setting sun and they were pure, smokeless fire which would never die. The vastness of this fire and its intensity penetrated everything and entered the earth. The earth was the heavens and the heavens the earth. And everything was alive and bursting with colour and the colour was god, not the god of man. The hills became transparent, every rock and boulder was without weight, floating in colour and the distant hills were blue, the blue of all the seas and the sky of every clime. The ripening rice fields were intense pink and green, a stretch of immediate attention. And the road that crossed the valley was purple and white, so alive that it was one of the rays that raced across the sky. You were of that light, burning, furious, exploding, without shadow, without root and word. And as the sun went down further down, every colour became more violent, more intense and you were completely lost, past all recalling. It was an evening that had no memory.

death

I was talking to a friend yesterday morning about death. We were sitting outside the Intensive Care Unit in a Hospital (my father is not well and is admitted there) and yesterday morning the patient in the adjacent bed passed away.

Our conversation drifted off in to what happens when we die. Nowadays scientists are beginning to discover that death may not be as bad a painful experience as we think. There are some studies (there is a program called AWARE) done on people who have head near death experiences. A typical case is of drowning when someone is rescued after being almost drowned (the life lingers on for about 2 minutes after breathing stops) and then rescued. Many of them report that it was not a scary experience, but rather there was complete peace. Studies are also done on patients who have survived on operation tables, wherein they report that they could see themselves lying below, as if they were near the ceiling, being operated upon. Scientists are now validating this by placing certain signs near the roof which are not visible in the lying position and asking such people if they have seen it.

While I told all this to my friend, he narrated to me a near-death experience he had some time back. He was on a bike entering the main road from a pocket road. As he briefly paused for a moment to judge the traffic, a loaded truck that was parked on the side He was on a bike entering the main road from a pocket road. As he briefly paused for a moment to judge the traffic, a loaded truck that was parked on the side began to move back. The truck hit the bike and he fell down on the road and the driver unaware of this moved the truck further back. Some bye standers saw this and alerted the driver who stopped the truck just in time to save my friend who was just few inches away from the rear wheel.

He explained to me what went in his mind during the incident. As he was lying there on the road watching the rear wheels of the truck coming slowly towards him, he was blank. He could have moved away quickly, but instead he just lied there resigned and serene. He told me that for that moment, there were no thoughts in his mind, he did not think of his parents or wife or kids. There was no fear too. He was serene and peaceful.

According to Hindu (also other eastern traditions), everyone is born with a blank mind without any conditioning. Throughout one’s life , one adds conditioning which builds up his identity and again at the time of death, the mind returns to the original unconditioned state. Most of the spiritual practices are trying to get the mind (or consciousness) in to that ‘unconditioned’ state.

But I am not sure if there is something as ‘near death experience’. I thought it was binary- death or no death, or is there something between?