Giving and receiving

We expect other human beings and other living species to be a source of some value to us every time we interact with them. This is the default way we have existed. This is how our minds usually work. Even when we are not aware of it.

Now think of a time when your mind was not working like this. Lets say you just recovered from an illness. Just came back from tough, painful moments to appreciate what is. You feel different, tearful happiness looking at people and animals. It is as if it is all a gift.

Now think of being at the other end of this person. Some times you come across such people, and you feel deep appreciation and openness towards them, almost sub-consciously. You feel awe. This person by-passed most other beliefs you had about the kind of person you want to interact with. You come totally in the moment. This is the interaction you were always looking for. In fact, you open up, the typical story of giving and receiving disappears for a moment.

Now consider for a moment the story of giving and receiving. You value receiving. Our minds work in interesting ways. One minor story title that you have held on to can write an entire story of behaviors and experiences. When you find yourself stuck in this story, and realize it is a confusing mess that does no good to anyone in the long run, you are already almost more than half awake. Soon like a balloon leaves the hand, the story leaves you. It happens. But awareness is a key step. Without it, you would be so deeply ingrained inside the story that it seems to be your universe.

So imagine that the story of giving and receiving lifts off your hand. Suddenly the world opens up. When you receive you will be grateful, and when you give you will feel like you are sharing. It becomes a world of sharing, not giving and receiving.

Lessons learned from Overtraining

I struggled with sleep recently. It was a slow learning process. I had to first let go of the desire to find out why and get comfortable with reality. That takes a bit of time, in this case a week or even more.

Now that sleep has been better, I have more clarity. I noticed I was exercising a lot. When I wouldn’t sleep well, I would take that as a reason to exercise in the morning, thinking early morning exercise would help me feel tired and sleep. I was missing the rest and recovery part. After exercise, I would relax through yoga and moments of meditation, but then I would continue stimulation overload rest of the day. Work. Unreal social expectations. Even getting lunch was a task. This was nearly an every other day routine.

I happened to read about overtraining, not for the first time, but this time my reality made me listen to it. I decided to skip exercise, and dial down goals of all kinds for a week, and try to just be and relax. In just a couple of days, I felt sleep was easier. I also realized I did not understand meditation at an intuitive level until now. I had heard people say it is non-doing, just being. But I always thought of it as a task. Again like overtraining, this realization came from within for the first time. I simplified my meditation technique. Sit down comfortably on a chair, and just gently notice breath going in and out of the tip of the nose. I had learned this from the description of Vipassana meditation. There is something about this that made me switch to being rather than doing. Tip of the nose and noticing was calming. I could do this for hours. Several days into the week, I felt rejuvenated.

This is still early days. But I am beginning to appreciate non-doing, relaxing, and letting go. Doesn’t mean I will not exercise again. May be when I have more clarity around how to exercise with proper recovery. Another interesting observation in this week was this happiness I felt in just being with people, as if this is all life is about.

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.

Keep expanding your horizons

Only thing limiting us are the barriers in our minds. Our minds can be like prisons holding us captive.

But these words are easier said. How do we expand our horizons? If we have been used to living constrained, letting go of those barriers is not going to come easy. The thing is, these barriers have helped us in some ways in the past. Longer we have had these barriers, the stronger the ‘Stockholm syndrome’ is. As a meditation instructor once said “you have held these beliefs for decades, it will take sometime to change them”.

It was only after over an year of meditation, that I was finally able to see a magical new way. Now after almost 2 years, I am settling into this way. Before, my ability to function normally under certain emotional states was limited. Anxiety, anger, fear would be too much to risk getting into. A fully functional human being goes through a range of emotions. That is the natural flow of life. But many of us try to run away from certain emotions. It can become so deeply rooted inside, that we don’t even realize it. Result, as we grow older, we become less and less open, and our life becomes tougher. We hate more things than we love. We become cynics instead of optimists.

We never got to understand how our bodies and minds work together. We were so stuck trying to live life externally, we forget the one sense we have. The sense of perceiving what is going on inside. Over many years, it happens so fast, in a snap, that in the beginning we don’t even realize how our mind and body went from A-Z.

The magic is not a one day magic. It requires some perseverance in the beginning. We did not learn to ride a bicycle immediately. It takes some practice. Similarly, meditation requires an initial breaking into. It is building strength in this one sense that we have mostly ignored. Sense of perceiving our state of being.

When we are beginning to learn to ride a bike, it feels great just to be able to balance. But after a while, it is not about just being able to ride a bike. The bike is now a way of experiencing more things. With meditation, you learn to find balance in your mind, which is quite powerful, if you think of it.  We experience everything through our minds. With that balance comes new experiences, not just now, several years into the future.

Way to the heart

One trait that has eluded me is genuine compassion. Compassion is the core of Buddhist meditation. More life experiences, more meditation, compassion feels more and more real.

It turns out my best meditation experiences have been when I felt heart broken. May be that is the way to the heart. We are too often caught up in trying to run away from heart break. No one likes rejection. Nearly every rejection in the past, I have tried to come out thinking how to not run into that rejection again. But I feel rejection much less than before. Before I would feel rejected trivially. More self confidence, and ability to find inner happiness, I guess.

So when I came back home lost in a sea of weird emotions, I did my usual routine for such situations. Breathe … and notice the feelings in my body. This time the storm lasted several hours. When it disappeared, what remained was interesting.

I felt like clear water, with a little more flavor.

How you feel inside shapes your experiences

This is the single biggest motivator to do yoga, going for a run, or sitting down for meditation for a lot of people I know. I will encourage you to take a mental note of how some key moments felt in your last week. In particular, how did it make you feel on the inside. You don’t have to worry about words or limiting yourself with language. Whatever comes, just make a mental note, acknowledge it, no need to write it down with pen. You can write it down with a pen too. But not a big deal.

Try to cover the feel good moments. Your mind will have a tendency to gravitate towards negative experiences. If one such negative experience takes over the wallpaper of your mind, don’t worry. The best way through an emotion is through it. Notice how it feels. You might feel various parts of your body reacting in various ways. Notice them. Feeling emotions this way, almost inevitably leads to relaxation, and clear blue sky. It may take some time. But what comes out at the other end is clarity, and ease. Worth your time.

Now focus on things that made you feel good. In particular the things which are fully in your control. It could be, how you felt waking up and making yourself breakfast, it could be yoga. Try to add these things to your daily routine. Totally in your control, and you can do it everyday. You would notice even brief moments of doing these feel good routines early in the day makes a difference in how your day goes.

You are more at ease with yourself and that translates to doing everything  a little better. How your perceive things will also change. You will now have an eye for art. Taste for good food. Fondness for good social interactions. You will spend less time getting caught up in things, which you know lowers the quality of the day. You will have room to be constructive.

This is simple, and effective.

To Inclusiveness and love of life!

I was almost convinced that I will not write yet another blog. As I meditate, I evolve, and I see through what drives me to do things. Writing blogs is usually when I get an insight, and I am excited.

This will be a special heart felt piece. One thing I have learned from my experience in life is, life is what you make of it. Humanity has made progress in patches. There have been dark phases. We are at a point where we have all the necessary tools and capacity to understand each other more than ever before. To all of us open hearts, who deep inside want to open up and want to meet and live with people of different kinds, there has never been a better time. You have to trust your instincts. Stick together. And yes this is the tough part, be compassionate towards those who do not see the world the same way as you do. This is not easy. Remember deep down we are not that different. We have similar emotions. At the end of the day, we all want to feel life, feel connected.

It is very easy to be reactive. But then nothing new will come out. We will be stuck in a cycle of hate. But if you give yourself and others some space, you will notice the capacity to proactively be constructive. Inclusiveness and love of life is just as much a fundamental human emotion, as fear, hate and pessimism.  Sometimes you meet people who are not ready for inclusiveness. Give them space. Focus on what gives you real happiness. Find people who share your openness. Find things to do which makes you connected with people and nature.

And yes, meditate if you can.

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.