You have only scratched the surface

I like constants. They make our existence seem more sane, without compromising the wilderness of life.

If I were to state one constant that has played a pivotal role in my recent life, there is always a present moment. No matter what you are doing, or experiencing, it is in a present moment. So all that meditation and noticing the breath and bodily sensations, and sounds and even thoughts, creates this self reciprocating feedback loop, that makes me more and more comfortable with the wilderness of life, while always having a home. This home is constant and always accessible. Makes me understand religious people more and why they want the idea of god, who is there to look after them. As an atheist (or an agnostic) and a pragmatist, I have trained myself to feel comfortable noticing my breath, sounds, contacts, or whatever feeling is going on. It is not any different from how people train themselves to relax in sweets or relax in an orgasm. Those are easier. Some people train themselves to relax in writing code or playing video games or reading books or playing music, and the list goes on. The breath, contacts, and feelings are always there. Those other things are not.

Anyways another constant that just came to me was you have only scratched the surface. This is a constant applicable for the human mind. Human mind has this amazing capability to hunt for answers. You find an answer, and then you think you are done. Except, you have only scratched the surface. Universe is a complex fractal. It is not one pattern repeating itself. It is gazillion patterns going deeper with more and more complexity. To the point that, our mind will always be limited, our knowledge will grow, our capabilities will grow, but we will never reach fulfillment, otherwise life wouldn’t make sense. Fulfillment is not what we want. We want fulfillment, but only on a temporary basis. Only to ground ourselves, relax and recover and then we are on again.

The thing I have noticed with all religions, including Buddhism is there is always this mention of fulfillment. Peace. We like peace and fulfillment, but once we have recovered our energy and we discover we have only scratched the surface, we like that too.

So I leave you to yet another man made new year, and I hope you relish in the fact that you have only scratched the surface.

Softening the eyes

I started doing an exercise to soften my eyes a week ago, and well this brought some changes in no time.  Lets first understand what I am talking about.

We have two extreme ways in which we use our eyes. Intense focus on a nearby object. Eye muscles tense up, and your field of view is narrowed down to a laser focus. This is a very predatory view of the world. Something like how cats or owls see the world, when they are ready to pounce on a prey or ready to fight or flee. The other extreme.  Eye muscles relax. Your peripheral vision becomes enhanced. You can see a lot more without focusing on anything in particular. The dreamy look in the picture.

In some martial arts practices like Aikido, and well horse riding, it is recommended to use a soft focus. More peripheral vision increases outside awareness, and reduces mental chatter. Think of the last time you had laser focus, tunnel-vision — showing up for an interview, or showing up at a social event feeling awkward. Your mental chatter was in full flow. So much that outside world became a squeak and the volume of your thoughts were loud. You felt uneasy. Anything in the field of view could wreck your balance. You felt like the outside world does not get you.

Now think of another time. Relaxed morning. On a vacation. No pressure. A beach or a mountain or a country side. Your field of view was fluid. Mental chatter. Nah, it was just appreciation for what was around you. No judgments. People were friendly. Life was easy.

Soft eyes helps you relax into the environment without taking in a depressant like alcohol. If you have been used to life with hard eyes (as most of us are these days), you will feel dreamy when you practice soft eyes. I recommend practicing soft eyes for a couple of minutes just after you wake up or just before going to bed. With some practice, however, you will notice life becoming easier in front of your eyes.

I have been at it for 4 days, and even on top of my regular meditation, this feels like a noticeable calming change. Less thoughts means easier socializing, easier anything.

One thought that will open up your life

Something is going so well. But day in and day out, life becomes less and less multi-colored.  You have become attached.

Most commonly talked about addictions like alcohol or drugs are easier to not get attached to.  There are more subtle addictions. One day you had a great experience — you were connecting with people so well, or your idea was well received. You get attached to a person, you thought was special. Another day, similar situation, different experience.

You become extremely selective in your life. Only this, nothing else. Why is it bad? For one, you will get hurt eventually. But even when things are going well, you are narrowing the scope of your life. You meet countless interesting people and opportunities, but you just don’t see fun in them anymore.

I am not suggesting you to not have attachment. In fact, lets go a level deeper.  One common theme with attachment is “I am not enough”. I need to do something or get something to be enough. It creates a vicious cycle, which might start well but has a long bad tail.

Let me spin the globe, and show you what you miss when you go about your life trying to find completeness outside. You miss the world coming to you. A new day, a new person, a new experience, that your mind was not capable of grasping. You miss the variety and robustness of life. When you are seeking, you put on these colored lenses, that filter out a whole spectrum of opportunities. Getting attached every now and then is a part of life, but when you keep seeking outside, the degree of attachment is so much more that you waste a ton of time just recovering. It is like going out with an unnecessary weakness.

So if you are enough, does that mean you won’t go outside and explore? Of course. You won’t be seeking, you will be enjoying.

Trying to make an imperfect world perfect

One reason why I twitch at the thought of writing my opinions and sharing it online is because I don’t know what is perfect. Yet there is something inside me that starts crying as annoyingly as the most pissed off toddler you can imagine if it sees that what I did was not perfect. Of course, 2 years ago, I would have a hard time, and this inner toddler would wreck my confidence. Now I know a way or two to make this toddler quiet.

This toddler has a hunger for perfection and takes control of me whenever it can, using the classic fight and fight response patterns  — yeah yeah, breathing shortens, belly takes a dive into a black hole, eyes stress, voice suffers and yes opinions come out like diarrhea. No news, I hate this side of me. Everyone has it and hates it when they realize it. But the toddler is inside, and you can’t get rid of it. The more you try to fight it, the stronger it comes back. Solution, live with it, like a mother lives with her annoying toddler. Of course this toddler can serve you good. It will save you when you are faced with a real tiger. But other times, you need a way to calm this thing down. Breathing is one way.  When we take some time to take deeper breaths, hold it in for a while and exhale as long as we can, a few repetitions triggers the Autonomous Nervous System to shift a gear to rest and relax. And now we are able to see things more clearly. The fact that we had time to do this exercise was evidence that there was no real tiger, hence the toddler’s diarrhea of opinions were not useful at this point. This new state of mind, let us call it the wise old man or woman. It knows things from a wider perspective and lets just say for most situations other than survival, it makes more sense than the toddler.

Anyways, coming back to trying to make an imperfect world perfect. Politics is a prime example. The deeper we get, the more diarrhea we get. We don’t realize it but politics is an indirect world. There are several degrees of separation. It is like spending a lot of time on Twitter or Facebook, instead of meeting with people for real. Politics is like trying to solve real world problems without really being able to do anything about the problems directly. Hence it feels like a tiger, we feel helpless, and we have a diarrhea of opinions.  There is nothing wrong with these opinions. The world is imperfect.

Another way of looking at the world, which I subscribe to more, is it is all about awareness. You bring change through awareness. Those who are receptive to your information see the world the same way as you do. Those who are not don’t. So this is not perfect either. But this scales better. It is easier to bring change when people feel the need for it from inside. For example, I learned meditation because I felt a need for it from inside. I felt like nothing external would give me real confidence to live in an uncertain world. So no wonder most people who meditate have suffered in some ways, and chanced upon this magic tool.

When things don’t work, it is just an experience. The only wise thing to do is accept it. With meditation, I can dis-entangle myself from the toddler mind. You get hurt not because something didn’t work out but because your breath is shallower, your heart rate is up, and this remains for extended periods of time. There is nothing wrong with this toddler either. But since you don’t have a tiger next to you, the toddler is not helping you.

Flow State

One of the things that I have taken some time to understand is the Flow state. For more on what Flow state can bring to you, you can watch this TED talk. It is this elusive state of mind which sometimes happens, when conditions are right. But what conditions? What should I be doing to get into this state of mind?

Wrong question.

Meditation has this magic effect. The more I try to understand the bits and pieces, and try to break it apart, the more I ruin the chances of getting into a flow. This has been the biggest mistake I have made in my year or so of meditating. Meditation works great. It does what it is supposed to do. Intense focus for sometime in a stretch, in a structured practice can lead to that clear blue Flow state. This can happen at other times. When doing something physically challenging and absorbing. When doing something mentally challenging and absorbing.

So what ruins the chances of flow after meditating? I hate to say this, but it is analysis/paralysis. Knowing how meditation works, does not help you reach the flow state, unless of course you find that interesting. What is worse is if you try to approach life in a particular way, for example try hard to be present beyond the meditation practice. You get in your own way.

Instead after meditating, just go about doing what you were doing. Don’t get in your own way.

Flow happens.