The world needs your zen

One of the realizations that we come across in our process of awakening to the true self is the significance of what is inside us. Before we started on this path, we were deluded into believing that what is outside is important. Until we see the rat race everyone is involved in, we will be stuck on the hamster wheel, spinning in circles — climbing up imaginary ladders to only fall down again.

But human beings are very receptive to the cues they perceive from those around them. You see, your zen way of living, can save many others. If you live by example, people around you will notice. And like the 100th monkey syndrome, more and more people will wake up. That is how I woke up.

Often, at a certain point in our awakening we start to emphasize on the futility of trying to help others. We know that help comes from within. But if you as an experienced practitioner can live by example around people, instead of trying to find ways to run away from society (which you would very well learn is a temporary escape), you would help someone in the most real way possible.

You don’t have to force it. There is a time for everything. The natural flow usually makes this happen. But if you are in your phase of awakening feeling that society will never get you, just putting it out there (this will for sure come from within), society needs you. What you see as social structures, are imaginary. People (and life) are real. What is true to life is always picked on. You don’t even have to speak a word. Your living by example will be felt and the next person will begin to feel it. But you have to live it.

Do not force it

When you force something to happen, nothing bad might happen immediately. But eventually you will hurt yourself. No one else will hurt you. If you are wise enough, you will realize what is going on. If not, you will burn out.

There is another way. Loving attention to this moment. Allow this moment to flow. If you are having doubts about that, bring loving attention to that doubt. Remember, your thoughts, what you think you know, never has 100% resemblance with how reality will pan out. It might coincidentally match reality, but that’s it. Doesn’t mean you wage a war on your thoughts. Pay loving attention to it. While your thoughts may not be accurate, they have come up, they are part of this moment. Allow them to come up.

Always remember the bigger picture. We tend to get lost in detail. I need to solve this specific problem and that specific problem. There are a 100 problems and another day you wake up and realize they are no more, and then there are a dozen more.  Doesn’t mean you don’t approach your situations, but remember to draw loving attention to it. At the end of the day or at the end of your life you are not getting anywhere in particular. As Alan Watts said, life is more like a musical composition than a road trip. The ending is not as important as you think.

Musings on life, oneness, and towards a more loving existence

The fact that our Earth could be habitable was only true by so many preceding fortunate factors, that we or any other life form had no control over. But here we are. Generations after generations of living things evolving. And now there are self-aware living things that can study their own existence.

Fortune (series of natural events and circumstances) granted us the ability to be able to make good short term predictions into the future (to some extent most living things have this ability). But humans with their ability to build tools, conceptualize, and communicate took this to another level. Hence the birth of ego. A sense of you, me, us separate from everything else, and a concept of future and past. This might have played a significant role in making our lives measurably more comfortable compared to before. We did not have to rely on the ability to fight physically or fly naturally or sprint or run long distances to survive as other species had to. But as is true for all evolutionary layers of life, ego has its limit. Beyond that limit, ego does not make life better. It actually makes it worse. Result, we are living in a world where despite all the comforts and safety of human existence, we are full of stress, anxiety, and we ourselves are our worst fears. We do not have to fear a tiger or even a flood as much as we used to. But other humans.

To an outsider observing us, it will seem bizarre that we are not happy, we are not grateful for what we have, and we are separate from each other despite living so close to each other, and we haven’t yet developed fully the ability to be compassionate to each other and other life forms, despite our comforts compared to other species. This is where ego no longer plays a role in making existence of life better. We need egos to survive, but it alone cannot make our existence better. We will be lost in stories, cultures, religions, or our own personal individual tales, without seeing the bigger picture.

Being a self aware species however, there is no wonder we will evolve. We already are. Awareness is what life has always been. There are moments when conditioning takes over, we suffer, and then awareness kicks in. Next big step for life would be a self aware species that learns that ego is just a layer. In fact, in reality, ego is just a concept. There is no such thing as it on a permanent basis. But to get to that level, you will have to practice awareness. You cannot outlast ego by ego. You cannot control your way past ego. That is like beating your drums hoping to find a fugitive, as the popular lore goes.

You can only get to that point through life experience. Awareness. Trust and loving attention to the present. Eventually you will realize that we are not really in control, beyond our circumstances. This present moment is real. Those thoughts you have in your head are also in this moment. And you can exist as awareness. In fact the concept of ‘you’ will fade. The only thing that exists is this moment. What you call you, are the layers of life that are branches/twigs and leaves of this moment. Hopefully you will learn to be loving to this moment.

The often overlooked link that connects us all

Have you noticed how everything happening around us has something in common? Regardless of whether it is a person walking, or a bird flying, or a breeze blowing, or distant sounds of vehicles, or the whistle of the wind.

All of this is happening in the now. You can add things happening inside you to that list — insights, judgments, emotions, sensations. Have you ever considered for a moment that everything is connected by this moment? In this moment, someone had to drive, a bird had to soar up, and thoughts had to bubble up. If you take away the moment, you take away the link between a gazillion things.

What if all that you know, see, hear, experience, all that complexity is just layers of complexity on top of something really simple. What if that bird soaring above you or that car passing by you, or that thought bubbling up in your head are deep down just this moment. What if all that is just the ripples on the surface of a common ocean. Or branches, twigs and leaves of a tree. At the surface those ripples have variations, character. Those branches and leaves have forms. But it all came from the root.  If you can observe the synchronicity in everything with their own character, you can see how they are all connected by this moment.

Could we simplify our lives by reminding ourselves of this ocean or tree which we are all part of? This moment. Loving attention to it. Instead of remaining in the complexity at the surface. After all, everything is deep down fairly simple. This moment with a gazillion layers of character on it. Those gazillion layers of character are just for the collage, and the real thing is this moment.

Why meditate?

Over 2 and a half years of practicing meditation regularly, in its various forms, I have moved from the initial excitement about this practice to a moderately experienced practitioner that can talk from experience.  First let me clarify that I practiced a few different types of meditation in this duration — vipassana (mindfulness style meditation), yoga, chanting, journalling. But the core aspect of every meditation practice is to connect with the present moment, with kindness and love.

Also I would like to point that my experience may not directly relate to yours. It is a constantly evolving process. In fact, it is nearly impossible to write in words what meditation is about. It is intuitive.

So why meditate?

First and foremost, to connect with the present moment with loving-kindness. This is not the motivation for practicing meditation for many people in the beginning, but as you do it over a period of time you will see the value of each — present moment, kindness and loving intention. This helps navigate every aspect of life, once you get a hang of it. It will become your guidance in everything you experience and do.

Second, to manage stress. You will feel on an average less stressed. More calm and peaceful. But be aware that life will happen, and you won’t be calm and peaceful all the time. But you will be able to find calm and peace more often, regardless of external situation.

Third, to get in touch with your true nature. Growing up as kids, we transitioned from our true nature to being conditioned by society to think, believe and behave a certain way. This in my experience takes some time to get to. Just openness to present moment and intention of being loving and kind, starts a process within you that will help you gradually separate the conditioning from who you really are. And who you really are will also surprise you. You are not even the authentic emotions you always thought you were. There is even more underneath those emotions. But don’t obsess over this. It will reveal naturally in time and experience, as you continue your practice.

Fourth, to appreciate life. Not just your own, but life in general. You will find that you are compassionate to people, to animals. Again this will come with practice.

Fifth, to learn how life functions. Not in a dissecting, science class way. But from an intuitive perspective. Life evolved by itself. It didn’t need dissecting and understanding organs/tissues/cells. You might also get more in touch with your intuition and get an inkling of what it is, how significant it is. It is the most underestimated aspect about life in our modern society. As I remember Jon Kabat-Zinn saying in a presentation “the wisdom does not lie out there, in the east, in the Dalai Lama. It lies in our DNA”.

There might be more. I would love to hear from you.

On letting go of attachments and being grateful

We were born naked and helpless. In no time, life progressed, and we are where we are. We are not here forever. When it is over, we will go just as we came.

Life is an incredibly amazing thing. We can never escape that we are an expression of life. And there should be no reason to escape. That is who we will always be. It is just an illusion when we think we are separate from the rest of life. We forget that something is helping us. It has always been helping us in one way or another. Life itself is helping us. Every experience, every emotion, every thought, every physical sensation, every interaction. We have tried to understand, to take control, but we will never be free from the flow of life. Regardless of the illusion of what we have achieved, or what status we have, we are nothing but it – life.

Life flows. You can never hold on too long. You cannot hold on to happiness nor sadness. Nor can you hold on to control, or social structure. Definitely not hold on to fears too long. But what you can do is love and be grateful and trust in this process. Attachments are a tricky thing. Letting go of attachments does not mean breaking a relationship or changing something externally. It is actually no longer being consumed by whatever fear led to that attachment. We forgot along the way the natural process of life. We forgot to be grateful and loving to every moment. Even the most creative, innovative things we have done, have come out spontaneously. It was life expressing itself.

No matter what, remember that life knows a way, it flows.

Some other useful tips

I recently discovered the effectiveness of free form writing on a note pad with pen. It goes like this. You ask a question, whatever is on your mind, just write it down. Then you will answer it. Write it down. Then you will have more questions, Again write it down. Just remember to write it down, there is no need to edit it for a final version. The goal is to express yourself freely.

Writing with a pen is different than typing on a computer. I have found this exercise to be more effective when writing with a pen on a piece of paper.

So an example scenario was. I am not motivated to work. I kept writing questions and answers, ultimately I found a sense of peace when I hit this question “why do you do anything?” Answer “to help someone — myself or another person”.

It was strange as I had never looked at work like that. Simple but drastic shift in the way I look at things.

Who are we?

Who are we? Are we our clothes? Our names? Our thoughts? Our emotions? Feelings in the body? You know it, we are none of that. Because we can shed all of those in one go as a crab can shed its shell or a snake can shed its skin. Are we our bodies?

You know who you are. You always know it. The one that writes honestly in a diary, the one that chooses to wear a certain pair of clothes. The one that secretly likes someone’s personality, but may not be able to express it. The one that has obscure feelings. The one that feels something amazing watching a baby lion and a baby chimp and a baby dog play together. Unfortunately, as time passes, this you gets tied to the shell, all around you. Most of us never really fully shed this shell. As time passes, your consciousness evolves, but the shell around you can remain.

Most of us never get to the point where we can even be aware of the shell. We are so lost in it, that we get in touch with the real us, only at the end of our lives or in moments where we are completely awestruck, and realize the beauty of something that gives us goosebumps. I have good news. It doesn’t have to be that way. But it takes work. You have to first get to the point where you can see the shell. Meditation. Any self awareness practice. Observing things from a place of non-judgement as they are. This will get you 99% of the way. You will see the shell. Not just that, you will have to do this over a period of time to be able to see that the shell is limiting you. And even more time to feel the pain that the shell is causing you. And a little more time to see, that you are sub-consciously holding onto the shell. Those tightening sensations, underneath those emotions, are your cues. When you can be aware of it, and let go of that pull from those invisible little threads in the different parts of your body where you feel it, holding you like a puppet, you can walk out of the shell — fresh and whole. It is like working with muscle memory, when you learn to skii, or learn a new sequence of body movements.

Just like a crab sheds it shell several times, so can you. There is no one all conquering moment. There is just a realization that the real you exists, and you can observe the shell, and shed it when you have reached the point of having outgrown your shell.

Feeling emotions

This is the secret to opening up. And that my friend is the entirety of this blog.

Ok, I will write more. Just to have a conversation. But that thing above was all I had to say. So you want a story. Well look at every story you can imagine. The climax is always feeling emotions.

So what happens when you don’t feel emotions. You close. It can show up first as tightening of the different parts of your body. Then, rationalizing. Creating judgments. Adding more layers as you don’t want to feel even more emotions. You can go years like this. And during this period, there are parts of your life that are closed, off limits to you. And yes, parts of your body are also closed. And that my friend is how you shut out life.

How do you feel emotions again? When you notice yourself ruminating, trying to run away from something (and survival is not at stake), feeling persistent anger, fear, jealousy, low self esteem, over confidence, urge to criticize, that is your cue. Stop, and notice what is going on. Notice your breath. And when the momentum has calmed down, allow yourself to feel whatever you are feeling. You will have a tendency to believe this is not right. Just remember that this is your muscle memory at work. This is how you have rationalized not feeling so many emotions. There is no danger/risk anywhere. It is just emotions and they pass through.

As you open up more to them, you will literally feel your entire senses being pervaded by the feel of that emotion. That is a great thing. Just stay there. 10 minutes, half an hour, you will notice changes. Perhaps more emotions you have been resisting. The process goes on. If you stick with it, sometime set aside everyday, you will feel lighter. You will get a realization that emotions are temporary. They pass through. Most negative behaviors are a result of an impulsive attempt to not feel that unwanted emotion.

Eventually you will feel more present. More constructive. Connect with people better. You will feel life. And nothing comes close to it.

Why things usually just work out

As I was getting deep into personal development, and becoming more and more conscious about little things in my daily life, I was often a little confounded by the spectrum of my beliefs.  On one end, there was “how you feel inside shapes your experiences” and “you should enjoy good social connections”, “you should sleep well”, and on the other end was “be open to your present experience”.

Lets take the simple example of sleeping well. It seemed pretty straightforward. Do all the right things to help sleep better. Try to go to bed at a predetermined time everyday, so that your body develops a habit of sleeping at a certain time. Try to figure how to minimize noise in your sleep environment. Exercise early in the day. Eat light dinner, and at least 2 hours before your bed time. Avoid drinking too much water close to bed time. Make sure your sleep environment is cool. The list kept going on, and you can see it is not trivial to ensure all the requirements. While building a habit of going to bed at a predetermined time is doable over a stretch of time, minimizing noise and maintaining a cool environment is not that easy to control. While it is possible to eat smaller portions for dinner and preferably 2 hours before bed time, but depending on how the rest of the day went, this can be easily missed.

I struggled to keep this simple goal of sleeping well. In fact, sleeping became harder the more conscious I became of my struggle with sleep, and how I would miss the requirements. I was only able to regain my sleep composure by realizing that being open to the present experience was the best thing I could do. If I don’t sleep well, be open to it. It is life. Everyday is different. At least this way, I was not adding undue stress.

This made me look back at every little thing I would call a success in my life. Did I anticipate it? Usually not. Sometimes yes, but a lot of times no. Did I work for it? Yes. Was I lucky? Yes. What was the biggest hurdle to success? Was it not working for it? Sometimes. Was it thinking about the result? Sometimes. Was it just bad fortune? May be a few times. When did I have most success? When I worked hard, but also tempered expectations. When did I work hard and also tempered expectations? When I was open to the present experience.

Being open to the present experience is actually a pretty smart way to live life. In fact what other option do we have. What is here is here. If we don’t accept it, we will spend a lot of time in our head ruminating, complaining about the present experience over and above our original worries. If we accept it, we are lighter. We keep moving, and we actually become more in sync with life as a journey, enjoying the subtle flavors and getting aha moments every now and then and less obsessed with imaginary goals. And yes, with the load unloaded, it is easier to be happy. Are we being a negligent by accepting the present moment? The opposite. We are accepting what is already here, how is that negligent? What about goals? What about them? Well if we value them enough and they mean enough, we would have values that steer us in the direction of the goals, given our present reality. It doesn’t have to come by ignoring or running away from our present experience. Definitely not by adding whole layers of undue stress.

And in hindsight, things usually just work out this way, whether we want it to or not. Look back at your life. You were never 100% in control. Not for long periods of time at least, or not without a lot of undue stress that ruined your health later on.