Some reflections on mindfulness

(Jan and I just came back from a meditation retreat. On the retreat, someone we met asked for some links to websites that would provide information on scientific research on the benefits of mindfulness practice. I suppose, being on a retreat with a (relatively) clear mind, something was sparked in me and I ended up writing the following in about 20 minutes. I thought it might be fun to post, so……)

just posted this and see the links don’t show up – if you go to Michael Taft’s site, you can find all the links. Please note that all of this is aimed at someone not consciously involved in doing yoga – in fact, skeptical of it)

MINDFULNESS RESEARCH AND INFO

I’ve included a number of links at the end to articles providing information about the physiological and psychological benefits of meditation.

To help put them all in context, I’m providing a “naturalist” explanation of what mindfulness is. In scientific research, “methodological naturalism” involves refraining from accepting any supernatural, magical, or non-physical means of explanation.

So here is a brief description of what mindfulness is, how it works and what its effects are in purely naturalistic language.

Put very simply, mindfulness involves training attention and awareness to free our consciousness from the constraints of our evolutionary conditioning in order to experience a unified state of consciousness.

Let me provide a bit more detail to help you understand what I mean by “attention,” “awareness” and a “unified state of consciousness.”

Selective Attention and Peripheral Awareness

In every moment we are awake, there are two basic aspects of our consciousness which are functioning. Say you’ve gone out to eat, and you’re looking at the choices on the menu. Your capacity for “selective attention” allows you to tune out the sound of other people talking, the slight pain you may have in your hip or lower back or neck, the sights of the waiter walking by, the people at the next table, as well as the various thoughts and emotions that may be passing through your mind that are not related to your meal.

While you are focusing on the menu (unless you’re an extremely advanced mindfulness practitioner!!) all of that – the sounds, sights, physical sensations, passing thoughts and emotions – are still present in your consciousness but they’re on the periphery – they’re in your “peripheral awareness.”

Something may arise on your periphery (the waitress drops a plate and spatters some tomato sauce on your new shirt, or on the bag holding a vitally important flash drive) and even if you wanted to hold your attention on the menu, all kinds of emotions will rush up – annoyance, irritation, etc – to draw your attention away from the menu. Now, what was peripheral has become central!

For most of our lives, our attention is pulled this way and that – we want to be focusing on developing a new computer code, and any number of external (“I just have to check my email for the 18th time) and internal (oh my god, did I remember to turn off the stove) distractions are fighting for our attention.

The primary source of these distractions is really not the external things or obvious internal stuff we pay attention to. There is always something going on “under the surface” that has to do with ancient evolutionary programming, that is for most of us, much of the time, the real driver of our actions, emotions and thoughts.

Our Instinctive, Emotional and Mental Programming

Our instinctive programming – exquisitely designed through the extraordinary evolutionary process of random genetic variation and natural selection – worked for several hundred million years in very simple circumstances to keep us safe, to motivate us to master our environment, and guided us through pleasure – what helped us survive – and pain – what is dangerous to our physical survival.

But that old programming is no match for the sophistication of 21st century marketers. High class scientists are paid huge sums to study our instinctive programming and come up with just the right combination of salt, sugar and fat to override the evolutionary mechanisms that are supposed to protect us, leading us to eat what makes us sick rather than what makes us healthy.

Our emotional programming – particularly that which developed around 250 million years ago – emerged because mammals evolved who found greater survival benefits in forming strong bonds, and tight social groupings.

This emotional programming is at the root of the profound bonds of love and caring in human beings. But because of our complex society and the complex mind and self-identify we have developed, the programming is twisted and used to exploit, manipulate, control the people we perceive to be important to us, develop over-dependence, and all kinds of other problematic relationships.

Our mental programming – particularly that which emerged in early primates as well as in homo sapiens between 250000 and 50,000 years ago, leading to the prefrontal cortex, the most highly evolved part of our brain – has been immensely important to our survival and the development of civilization. It allows us to create a kind of simple heuristic, a shortcut, a complex web of stories, narratives, worldviews, etc which give us tremendous power in terms of navigating our world, and is largely responsible for the fantastic developments in science that have come about in recent centuries.

However, living in a world of stunning diversity, our “stories” and “worldviews” have developed enormous complexities, distortions, mistakes, and deviations which lead us to be in conflict, to hate people we have never met just because of our ideas about them, to have confused and conflicting ideas about ourselves, what we are capable of, what we cannot do, etc.

Mindfulness, selective attention and peripheral awareness

Over the last several thousand years, meditation practitioners in virtually every culture the world over have experimented – often for hours a day, over the course of decades of their lives – and made the amazing discovery that cultivating the abilities of our most highly evolved brain structure, the prefrontal cortex (PFC for short) has the capacity of “deconditioning” our ancient instinctive, emotional and mental programming, and reconditioning it in a way which makes it more harmonious with our complex 21st century society.

Mindfulness

Selective attention helps us to hone in on an object of attention, noticing the fine details. It tends to interpret things in terms of what we know from the past, and generally works by “serial” or linear processing. If we over-focus with selective attention, we “see the trees but miss the forest.” This tends to make us tense and anxious, and can even bring about physiological problems.

Peripheral awareness helps us step back and see the larger picture, the “forest” within which the “trees” exist. We are able to understand the context of things, and are open to the new and the unknown. Peripheral awareness appears to involve massive parallel processing, which brings together many disparate functions of the brain.

Mindfulness helps us know how to make best use of each. We can step back even further and get a sense for what each moment requires for us to act most effectively. By balancing selective attention (on the breath, for example) with peripheral awareness (gently aware of but not reacting to the arising of thoughts, emotions and sensations impelled by our ancient programming) we are able to recondition that programming, the brain becomes more coherent, and we begin to discover a more spontaneous way of acting, that emerges naturally and intuitively.

Those times when an athlete’s hand just “glides” up to a basket, sinking the ball effortlessly, or when a scientist, pondering the solution of a problem in quantum physics, for decades, suddenly just “knows” the answer – it turns out this simple act of balancing selective attention and peripheral awareness leads to a state of harmony in the brain which allows such experiences of “being in flow” or “in the zone” to occur more often and more easily (this is why Phil Jackson decided to have all his basketball players learn mindfulness).

Unified Consciousness

Ultimately, at the most advanced stages (but glimpsed by everyone in moments of deep peace, letting go of concerns and often in moments of great fear or overcoming some great challenge) there is the experience of what Jan and I like to call “open heartful awareness. (some call it “pure consciousness;” others give it a religious name; it doesn’t matter what words you use or what you believe about it; people have reported this experience for centuries as well as the extraordinary benefits it confers).

When the capacity to balance selective attention and peripheral awareness is so well developed that the two become perfectly integrated, one experiences oneself and the world as seamlessly connected and one’s thoughts, actions, and words begin to emerge from that state of integration.

I say “begin” to emerge because for most people, it is a lifelong process of developing that kind of integration.

THE BENEFITS OF TRAINING THE BRAIN THROUGH MINDFULNESS

In 1999, I completed my doctoral research investigating the effects of mindfulness on physical pain. Since then, hundreds of subsequent research studies have been conducting reaffirming not only my work but many studies throughout the 1980s and 90s, showing that mindfulness practice can lead to a profound ability to reduce physical pain of all kinds. The effects are not only subjective, but show up in quantitative measurements of brain and nervous system functioning.

Mindfulness research in the last decades of the 20th century was often not of the highest quality. However, in the last 16 years, several thousand studies have been done at major research centers around the world, often of a quality equal to that of studies in most scientific fields.

Among psychological illnesses, mindfulness has been found to either reduce or eliminate symptoms in:

• Depression
• Anxiety
• Bipolar disorder
• Eating disorders
• Posttraumatic stress disorder
• Obsessive compulsive disorder
• Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder
• Borderline and other personality disorders

In physiological conditions, mindfulness has been found particularly effective in reducing virtually all kinds of pain, including migraines, back pain, cancer-related pain, foot and knee pain, fibromyalgia, etc.

In various walks of life, mindfulness has been able to improve performance in a variety of sports, including basketball, golf and even among a number of Olympic activities.

There are now thousands of programs around the world employing mindfulness and mindfulness-related practices in schools from pre-Kindergarten to graduate school, and studies have shown repeated positive results in terms of improving test results, improving overall social-emotional skills, reducing bullying, and overall greater engagement and interest in learning.

Is Mindfulness a Panacea?

Did you think I was going to say no, or fudge the answer a bit? In fact, a simple short answer is “yes.” It is compatible with virtually any kind of psychotherapy and all forms of education. It has been found to be helpful in every kind of workplace (improving productivity and collaboration and reducing absenteeism) and has even been used in governments to facilitate greater cooperation and understanding between competing or conflicting sides of an issue.

Over a century ago, William James said that a method for training attention would be the single most important feature of an excellent education. Near the beginning of the 20th century, he brought a Buddhist monk into his Harvard psychology class and told the students, “This man has what will be the foundation of education 25 years from now.” It seems that Professor James was off by about 90 years, but his prophecy now appears to be coming true.

PRACTICE

This is only the briefest of instructions. There’s a lot that can be very helpful, such as information about preparation, timing, posture, etc.

But you can still do 10 minutes of simple breath awareness to get at least a glimpse of what was just written.

1. Sit with your neck and back aligned, upright and relaxed.
2. Bring your attention to the feeling of the breath flowing in and out of your nose.
3. Before focusing on the breath, take just a moment to reflect on your motivation.
a. Understand that you are going to be practicing using a very gentle mode of selective attention on the feeling of the flow of breath, while allowing your peripheral awareness to take in but not get carried away by the various other aspects of your experience – sounds, body sensations, memories, desires, internal conversations – all will come and go, arising and passing away, and you don’t have to anything about them. Simply let them be and let them pass away. Remember also that even in the first practice session, or soon thereafter, it is possible (though not guaranteed!) to have at least a glimpse of that state of greater, more harmonious, unified consciousness.
b. Recognize that this gentle act of balancing selective attention and peripheral awareness is not a skill you’re developing in order to become a “better meditator.” It is something that will serve you at every moment of your waking life (and if you ever become interested in “lucid” or conscious dreaming, at every moment of your dream life too!).
c. Recognize that if you decide to persist in this practice, you are likely to begin to experience glimpses of a calm, peaceful unified state of wide open awareness, in which your whole field of experience feels to you to be one, unified whole, in which you are more receptive to intuitive promptings (as a result of a highly coherent brain) which can provide guidance in whatever you wish to do, from cultivating vegetables to cultivating deeper relationships to increased productivity to gaining a deeper sense of life’s meaningfulness and purposefulness.
4. Very gently bring your attention to the feeling of the flow of breath in and out of your nostrils.
a. If your mind is particularly distracted, you can use a word to help focus the mind – breathing “relax’ as you inhale, and “peace” as you exhale, or any words of your own choosing.
b. If you need a further aid to concentrate, you can count your cycle of breathing, counting “1” on the inhale, “2” on the exhale, up to “10,” then start over again.
5. As your mind gets quieter, let go of the counting or words, and just “be” with the breath. Before you finish your practice, try letting go of selective attention altogether and just rest, alert but relaxed, in that calm, quiet state of awareness. Be grateful for even the slightest measure of relaxation and calm that emerged.
6. Conclude by thinking of people you care about, and extending good will to them, wishing for them also to experience whatever measure of calm and peace you have experienced. If you wish to spend a bit longer at this, you may imagine as many people as possible – even ones toward whom you feel neutral, or even ones toward whom you have negative feelings! – to share in this experience of calm, quiet peacefulness.

That’s it!

Just 9,999 more hours, and you’ll be an expert.

(But don’t do it with any goal in mind; just enjoy the feeling of sitting quietly, the pleasant sensation of the flow of breath, the delight of knowing you are on the way toward mastering one of the most important skills any human being can develop).

Here are some excellent links for scientific research regarding the benefits of mindfulness:

From: “The Mindful Geek”: https://themindfulgeek.com/benefits-of-mindfulness/

Feel Better, Be More Effective, Relax
Mindfulness meditation revolves around paying attention to the present moment. Done properly over time, this simple practice can produce some dramatic results, including a surprising number of health benefits.
Get a free guided mindfulness meditation with Michael Taft and start your practice today.
Under the guidance of a seasoned coach, and with a committed practice mindfulness meditation can:
Improve Your Focus — Focus is a trainable skill, and meditation systematically trains you to focus. What’s more, your focus isn’t just better when you’re meditating, but all day long as you go about your business. Mindfulness’s positive effect on concentration has been proven in this long-term study, and this study, and has even been shown to make a big difference in novice meditators after only ten days.
Reduce Your Stress — We’ve all heard that meditation can help you to relax and become less stressed out. It is a proven way to deeply relax. Science shows that it can even make very stressful situations easier to handle. It lowers your cortisol levels—the hormone most responsible for stress. A 2010 meta-analysis of 39 studies found that mindfulness is a useful intervention for treating anxiety and mood disorders.
Enhance Your Empathy — Mindfulness will help you connect to other people. One mindfulness practice is called “loving kindness” meditation, in which you focus on feelings of love and compassion. Experiments show that over time this can dramatically boost your empathy (sense of emotional connection) with other people. Medical students under intense stress report higher levels of empathy when they meditate.
Reduce Your Emotional Reactivity — How long does it take you to recover from an upsetting event? Mindfulness can reduce that time measurably, and get you back on your feet faster after emotional upheavals.
Increase Your Cognitive Flexibility — Tired of being stuck in the same old rut? Mindfulness has been shown to increase “cognitive flexibility,” which means it allows you to see the world in a new way, and behave differently than you have in the past. It helps you to respond to negative or stressful situations more skillfully.
Boost Your Memory — How many facts you can hold in your head at once, what scientists call “working memory” is a crucial aspect of effectiveness in learning, problem solving, and organization. A study of military personnel under stress showed that those who practiced mindfulness experienced a boost in working memory, as well as feeling better than those who didn’t practice. Another study shows that it not only improves memory, but boosts test scores, too. Even practicing mindfulness for as short as 4 days may improve memory and other cognitive skills.
Make You Less Sensitive to Pain — Mindfulness meditation changes your physical brain structure in many ways; one is that it actually increases the thickness of your cortex, which reduces your sensitivity to pain.
Give You a Better Brain — Mindfulness trains the prefrontal lobe area of your brain (it actually gets bigger!), as well as enhancing other areas which give the benefits of an entire package of related functions such as self-insight, morality, intuition, and fear modulation.

1. http://www.remember-to-breathe.org
2. http://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/07-08/ce-corner.aspx
3. https://nau.edu/research/feature-stories/mindfulness-training-has-positive-health-benefits/
4. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/08/mindfulness-meditation-benefits-health_n_3016045.html
5. http://www.mindful.org/the-science-of-mindfulness/
6. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/compassion-matters/201303/benefits-mindfulness
7. http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/mindfulness/definition

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A taste in the mouth

O unknowable land
of familiar stories,
your secrets concealed
behind invisible masks
for us to uncover.

A teasing now and again,
sparkles and glimpses
that hide before they show.

A taste in the mouth
just enough to know
there’s nowhere else to be,
nothing else to do.

Lured by your mystery,
holding in a wait
that never ends
and never begins.

The louder you whisper
the less I know,
the less I know
the more I am.

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Invitation

By Sri Aurobindo

With wind and the weather beating round me
Up to the hill and the moorland I go.
Who will come with me? Who will climb with me?
Wade through the brook and tramp through the snow?

Not in the petty circle of cities
Cramped by your doors and your walls I dwell;
Over me God is blue in the welkin,
Against me the wind and the storm rebel.

I sport with solitude here in my regions,
Of misadventure have made me a friend.
Who would live largely? Who would live freely?
Here to the wind-swept uplands ascend.

I am the lord of tempest and mountain,
I am the Spirit of freedom and pride.
Stark must he be and a kinsman to danger
Who shares my kingdom and walks at my side.

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Equanimity

The word equanimity brings to my mind the image of a vast ocean in which different streams come from all sides and completely merge into it but the ocean remains unaffected and continues to ‘be’.  There is a sense of calmness when you look at the ocean, no matter how rough the waves are, we all know the deep underlying calmness which the ocean possesses. In the light of Indian Psychology, this is the attitude which one should adhere to in order to have a fulfilling life.

To walk on the path of self discovery and be one with the spark of the Supreme Power which is present in each one of us, it is essential to build a deep connection with our inner anchor so that we are able to step back and take distance from the action around us and develop a holistic understanding of the situation before we act, and not act simply out of impulse. Being anchored within helps to pause and evaluate the situation and then the action stems from the discriminating will and is not an impulsive reaction.

In any situation it is important to understand the intention behind the action rather than the action itself, the source from where the action is stemming has to be traced because it’s the source which explains the reason for the action as mere action  is just a  response to the thought, once we develop the ability to understand our thought patterns and become aware of the various psychological processes that function within us under various circumstance then, things can really run smooth in life and this can only happen if we live consciously and spend some time with ourselves and take efforts to establish the inner connect. From what I understand, the crucial aspect is the identification of the source of action, understanding of one self and being aware of the state wherein one is and not becoming that state. For e.g., – you are angry, that is a state, but you are not the anger. It is a temporary state that you are experiencing; therefore identifying and understanding the source of that anger is important to device a suitable solution and not just simply reacting to the impulse. Awareness of that sense of separation from the anger in that moment is necessary ,step back and see what makes you angry, but do not identify with the situation. Don’t give in to that state and do not let the energy of anger overpower you, simply step back and observe because if you completely given in to the situation then you will be unable to see the cause and get entangled into the web of actions. This then becomes a vicious circle and takes a lot of effort and energy that in the end leaves us all drained and unhappy.

The same goes with positive emotions as well. If you are happy, enjoy the state of happiness, but don’t lose yourself completely in the emotion of joy that it overpowers you and becomes your weakness. The crux of the matter is to live through the experience and let it go, and not get attached to or identify with it; the intent is not to restrict oneself from the experience, but experience without attachment, is what is important. Real equanimity lies in the experience of bliss in constant interaction with the world, wherein one can interact and be fully present in the world but still not get affected by it.

Based on my understanding, the journey on the path of equanimity is a lifelong process. It is only when one’s mind is silent and free from disturbances can one make an attempt to understand one’s own true nature and embark on the journey of self awareness. One needs to develop that ability, to recognize the source of actions and have a sense of being separate from them and observe them but not get carried away, and work towards maintaining a connection with the inner anchor which would act as a guiding force.

Self awareness is central to the concept of equanimity and achieving that state would require a silent mind and a calm heart as base to help establish a constant connection with the divine. My journey so far has been directed towards growing on this path, and since it is a continuous process, efforts have been taken to be consistent in the process, and I hope everyone who reads this makes an attempt to live life from ‘that’ space.

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A sweet red kiss

musings

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Detaching from a situation while in it

By Prema Sankar

 All of us have our issues or disagreements with certain people or situations, which we address as our “problems”. How much so ever we try to run away from these “problems”, they eventually hit us and hit us hard depending on how far we have tried to run away from them.Earlier I used to feel sad and dejected when confronted by these issues, and get angry with myself, with God, my surroundings and everything; but now I realise that they come up so strongly, as perhaps it is really time for me to outgrow them. They come up in my face for me to emerge strongly out of them.

As a beginner on this path, it is really difficult to stay in tune with my inner self or soul when I get immersed in my so-called situation (I am consciously avoiding the use of the word “problem”). When I am in it, my ego, my vital and all those parts of my outer nature which I am trying to let go/transform, so as to become more and more aligned with my inner nature, come back strongly. I feel this happens due to past conditioning and habit. The old self, because of familiarity, is one’s comfort zone, while the new self which one is in the process of building, is still in the making and taking its form.

When confronted with a difficulty, to step back or detach oneself from the situation is a common advise given by almost all masters and guides. But how does one do it? What helps to step back or detach? In this article I have tried to compile a few points which have helped me in my practice of dealing with my outer nature.

  1. Acceptance:  A complete acceptance of the situation, without denial, without blaming myself or others or the situation itself. It is of course difficult as the mind comes up with lot of judgements, blame game and justifications. Putting all this aside and trying to see things as they are. I also pray for strength and courage to accept the situation. When things came up, I realised I was not reacting, and I was not getting influenced by emotions. I could simply state what was happening. This, for me, was a huge measure as to how much I was able to accept things. Definitely, there is still a long way to go to get completely detached at all times. Just to be able to see the (earlier troubling) situation as an outside occurrence, and the difference in the way I was handling things before and the manner in which I am handling them now seemed a fairly good measure of my personal growth.
  2. Gratitude: Seeing the blessing in the situation and being grateful for it. We do not realise that it is our difficulty that makes us stronger and if we are conscious if it, the same thing helps us to progress on the path. So while being immersed in living the situation, I was also counting all the good things that were happening alongside. I noticed I could identify more and more things I felt grateful for once I started this exercise.
  3. Calmness and Peace:  Trying to avoid worrying or thinking too much about the situation, which would lead to a whirlpool of emotions. Also, not falling prey to a fear attack, saying ‘no’ to negative thoughts etc. Instead, trying to stay calm and peaceful. If I felt that my mind was taking over, then diverting attention (from the disturbing thoughts) by enjoying beauty – of a flower, a butterfly, clouds, beauty of nature etc. These came handy in helping me get in touch with my inner self. Music, meditation etc. of course help, and sometimes just a few deep breaths help in putting me in a good space.
  4. Just let it be: I felt it was best to let things be for a while rather than provoke the issue or give a reaction to it or to people (who I may have felt responsible for my being in that situation). Being neutral (I would like to use the word ‘equanimous’, but I am not yet there) towards people who I do not prefer. If they were my loved ones with whom I was having trouble, then it was relatively easier to let things be as I could focus on their good side and recollect all the good things they had done and were still doing for me. Incidentally, I came across a quote today:“To heal a wound you need to stop touching it”, and it is up to us to apply medicine or herbs for its speedy recovery or let the body heal it in time.
  5. Stay or move forward, never backward:  As part of the detachment exercise, I had overcome a particular feeling with huge difficulty and on that day I was really proud of myself. I had help, yet I had managed to deal with something which I had thought I could not handle. A few days later once again the same feeling started taking over me and I confessed this to my brother who reminded me, “Hey! you had gotten over it, now don’t go back.” When he said that it really hit me, that I must not walk back those few steps which I had already traversed. It is easier to go back as we are familiar with that space, but it is important to not go back as I would have really put myself right into the situation again and all the work done over days would have got undone in a moment.
  6. Faith, Goodness and Hope: “Think Positive” is one statement believers, non-believers, psychologists, laymen and each one of us is so familiar with. This is such a strong statement. Inspite of seeing no solution, or rather, not having enough courage to resolve my situation, yet I had immense hope and faith that I will get out of it in no time. This has really helped me to stay positive, not to react to things and continue to stay in a good space. From where I was feeling my situation was a big elephant in the room, now with time and also stepping back, I feel that the elephant has shrunk and it is only a matter of time before it gets fully cleared.
  7. Forgiveness: Forgiving oneself is the key to stepping back and also to come to a resolution. I was going through a lot of self-blame, guilt etc. Realising that this is totally unwanted and unnecessary was a huge blessing. All these lower forms of energy really put us in a bad space, energetically speaking, it is lowest of low energy vibrations. Thus forgiving oneself, others, and the situation is important to help us detach from the situation. Forgiveness does not mean that what someone or a situation has done to us is alright, but it is merely accepting, not holding a grudge, hatred, waiting to pay back etc. (Hawaiian healing process called ho’oponopono is really a handy way to help us get through a situation, if we are having a hard time forgiving someone.)
  8. Clarity:    I believe having clarity in my own head is the way forward from stepping back to getting into action. I have realized that unclear and vague ideas make matters worse. So with faith in my heart, I am waiting for clarity to dawn on me so that I can outgrow something which is probably a pattern, that has to be resolved over lifetimes.  “Ask and you shall receive” supposedly Jesus said this. Also, whenever I have asked with clarity the universe has gifted it to me with no effort of my own. Meditation has always provided me with answers, so I am relying on it to help me get to the next step.

With gratitude to the situation for all the lessons I am learning, gratitude to the people involved in different ways, and gratitude to the Higher Self and to myself, I end my musings here… with a hope that all of us are successfully able to leave a situation when required and resolve/recover the same situation when it is meant to be.

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Notes of a silent flute

On the darkest night
notes of a silent flute
play fire-dance in my heart.
The player sends his invisible breath
to hold me hush within its palm.
Following footsteps of its tunes
I grow invisible too.
One time I’m a bird
resting free atop tall walls.
Another, a foolish slave
drunk on a drop of love.
I’m lost to my world now.
Re-entered, I find a dance
in each exchange.
The lines that make things visible
are laughing at themselves,
bursting at turned-coat hems.
My dizziness blurts it out
that with pockets full of safety,
I was rotting
on an unreliable edge of the universe.
Meanwhile,
the sunset and the sky
grow brighter in my eyes.
And I know I have arrived
when I swallow them
and taste sweet drops
of their love-making
behind lit clouds of infinity.

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The Guru-Disciple Relationship — Part-4

That human relationships are complicated would be a huge understatement. They are much more than just complicated, they are often dark, murky, and messed up. Who of us has not experienced the sheer frustration and despair of not having our expectations met? Or the agonizing pain of having a broken heart?  Or the complex and convoluted rationale behind justifying the hurt we have caused to a loved one? Human relationships are often a perfect recipe for disaster.

Given that my views on human relationships are sceptical and often bordering on the cynical, I was therefore happily surprised when I spoke to the disciples about their relationship with their Guru. A whole new aspect of human relationships emerged. Unlike the usual parameters of attachment, selfishness, insecurity, desire, fear that define most human relationships, the Guru-disciple relationship bases itself on some of the most beautiful ideals of human existence. It is a relationship that is built on profound love and respect, real trust and freedom and a natural and simple obedience. The central purpose of the relationship is to help and guide the disciple to undertake his inner search for the Self.

During my interactions with the disciples (see my first blog) the following few aspects of the relationships were the most common.

1. The relationship was described as being deep and personal and was experienced in various forms, for example, the Guru was seen as a mother and the disciple as a child, the Guru perceived as a boss and the disciple as a worker or the Guru as the Divine and the disciple as a devotee. All the disciples I spoke to shared a very personal and living relationship with their Guru. According to them, with time, the relationship had grown which meant that the contact with their Guru had become very concrete. Their questions were answered, problems and difficulties were solved, things easily fell into place, and definite guidance was provided.

The disciples also felt an innate need to live according to the words of their Guru. They were all sincerely busy trying to put into practice all that was expected of them from their Guru.

2. Another very interesting aspect of the relationship was that in spite of little or no physical contact with their Guru, the disciples still based their relationship on a total sense of power and presence of the Guru. A deep and concrete connection was continuously maintained in their lives. They knew that they were being watched over constantly and that help and guidance was always around. The physical absence of the Guru forced the disciples to find the Guru within. I was surprised to find that so many of the disciples expressed how concretely they felt their Guru’s presence. There were many ways through which a connection was established; It could be through reading his books or through meditation, visions, or dreams, or it could be a silent exchange through prayer, or just a simple contact through the Ashram atmosphere. They all agreed that the physical absence (though hard at times) forced them to find the Guru within themselves. In short, the Guru was their inspiration, their support, and the one person who never failed them.

The most remarkable aspect of this relationship was the impact it had on the disciples. It brought the disciples “back to their real Self”, as one of them expressed. The essence of it has been the need to not just love the Guru but to become like him eventually. It is this intense need to merge into That Oneness that carries forth the disciple in his journey of disciple-hood.

 

 

 

 

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Last give and take

One day a sick pauper
undid the knots
that tied his tattered coat together.

Down fell the murk
free came the stench
from fresh red wounds
that secretly loved their colour.

He collected his dirt in a bowl
and took it to the sea
and spoke with the dancing waves.

“This my last give and take.
Year after year
the greedy holes in my coat
ask for more to fill their hunger.
It’s empty pockets openly refuse
to store away my fear.
What use is such a cover?
Slaughter me naked instead!”

A glistening smile from the sea
delivered him a message
in a sun-lit bottle.

“Tired little pauper,
In exchange for your imaginary coat
I trade with you a secret.
I swim inside you and
your wish is my command.”

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Stress and Sadhana

By Prema Sankar

This is quite a personal journey and I am intending to write it in as detached and generic manner as possible so that I can myself look back and apply it in other situations in life.

I have read so many times about the mind+body+soul connection. Since I began my inner journey, I have been testing these theories on myself. I use Louise Hay’s ‘causes of symptoms’ to know (one of the Sites: http://alchemyofhealing.com/causes-of-symptoms-according-to-louise-hay/) the meta-level of the problem in the body.

For example in the case of coughs: A desire to bark at the world. “Listen to me!”

One time I might be suppressing the desire to shout out or scream at my workspace, another time at my parents or my partner, siblings, friends or myself! So this boarder picture from the website, gives lead to dig into the personal subliminal issue.

Knowing the Why? The cause. Why is something happening in my body or what is making it happen? And with these clues from the mind, body relation I have received an answer from within me always, whether I act on it or not is a different issue, but the body does give an answer.

One Saturday evening, I was planning to travel to begin something anew but then everything changed. I was suffering from intense back pain. Seeing me in pain a friend referred me to a local physiotherapist. He asked me many questions in order to try and figure out the trigger of the pain. We discussed all possibilities and then he mentioned stress. I plainly said ‘possible’ but at that point I knew precisely, I had invited all this upon me.

Stress — was I aware of it? Yes and No.

Reflecting on it, I saw there are two culprits. First is ofcourse me or rather the unaware me who let the mind surf the wave of negative thoughts and the other is the ‘outside entity’. By outside entity I mean social conditionings, social norms, societal pressures, well-wishers, family and friends.

I do not blame either of the culprits.

Someone might say or give an opinion, which might be true for them – however their opinion is coming from the same conditioning and they too do not know how to think outside the box. (This video helped a lot to get that insight: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AegLdB7UI4U)

So they might be talking to you out of real concern but they also come from the place where years have gone in grueling their minds to ‘this is right’ and’ that is wrong’.

If the first culprit had enough strength or awareness; it would have stayed really untouched by the second, when I think of it. However I tell myself that I have just started unlearning the years of learning and realizing there is “no right” and “no wrong”; it just IS and it is also a sadhana to keep reminding that to myself.

When something unexpected hits us, start rolling the dice from square one and get on with the game. Something I have been realizing over and over from the lessons I learn is that, it is not a fresh start – it is like weaving a new thread in the inner circle – so it seems like we are at the starting point but it is a new weave! So it is not a fall, it is in fact a step of progress.

Multiple things including STRESS caused this back ache — because of which I cannot anymore carry out any of my beautifully & mentally laid out plans – instead I am home bound and restricted like never before. I could easily get stressed again for all these obvious ailments and that would bring only more ‘dis-eases’. This vicious cycle or ‘the loop in a loop’ dawned on me and by Grace my mind just started spinning in a positive way (or may be it wasn’t the mind at all, by then the mind was out and something else took over).

The first day I was sad, dejected and had lost faith; well not really as I believe we never completely lose faith, and if we do then we cannot exist. Faith and Hope is what drives us. I started looking within, started looking for the strength inside me. I started being grateful for this time for myself.

I started my exercises and do it regularly and making that my meditation time. I would focus, concentrate and ‘just be’ while I exercised. The more I focused the better I felt, simultaneously I continued physiotherapy as well.

Being an active person, it is quite difficult to box all my vital energy and stay at home all the time.

As I am not yet The Dragon Warrior, I wasn’t finding the inner peace all the time. I saw myself having anger outbursts or frustrations or the ego strongly building up self-destructive thoughts and at those times I would make a self note and get out of the situation.

So here is how I am trying to manage my Sadhana in the midst of my “so called” situation: (I am choosing not to use the word problem – as anything is a problem only if we think it is a problem – otherwise it just is a life lesson or an experience or a situation)

  • Meditating as many times (every 1.5hrs I try along with exercises. Some attempts succeed and others fail as mind is also not used to the calmness and peace.)
  • Diary writing (this helps a lot; while writing down I feel many parts of me back out and a true voice comes out – sometimes I feel this as a conversation with my soul or with God or with my true inner self, though it is quite a task to be in that inner zone)
  • Reading books that shut my mind and touch my soul
  • Choosing to meet and talk only to those people that matter
  • Self-Observation  (what I mean by this is I try and keep a part of me detached and just observe with no judgments, no corrections, no saying this is right or this is wrong nor do this or that. It is quite a task in itself)
  • Kicking out any negative thought I catch (this is the toughest one)
  • Some mornings I say affirmations. (I am still not sure how this works; but this is just an add on to whatever other physical medication. I feel good and happy after it just like listening to Music, so I do it. )
  • Music that grounds me (all of us have some music which just lets us BE and nothing matters at that time)
  • Nature.  Just getting out of the space and walking outside for fresh air and open feeling.

Now two-three weeks since the unbearable pain, I feel much better and confident that I will be healthy super soon. From where I could not sit up for two minutes – I could sit down to write this article.

Ending this note, hoping all of us find our inner peace through our Sadhana in such a way that nothing outside bothers us anymore.

 

 

 

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