Our lives are normally compartmentalized into separate slots for doing different things. For example, there are slots for work, entertainment, daily chores etc. and therefore most of the spiritually inclined people or the ones looking for peace in life have another slot – a slot for meditation. This book is meant for everyone, but people who have experimented with meditation without long term effects will benefit the most. I have personally meditated or tried to meditate for nearly 2 decades, but without any visible changes. Meditation was a kind of escape route or a harmless marijuana for me, which I used to run away from the practical realities of life. And I had a unconscious belief that since I am meditating, the things will happen according to me. Besides, you have a notion that if you are a good person and have done nothing wrong to anyone, good should come to you (no matter whether you do things right way or not.). For example, if I help a blind man to cross the road and expect good marks in the exams in return, I am totally blind to the truth. And the biggest favour god can do to me is to make me fail in the exam so that I am actually able to learn to study. Most of us have a preconceived idea about how things should be. And when they don’t turn the way we want, either we get angry or try to find an escape route or become oblivious of the reality. Self-victimization has been my favourite method to counter failures in life. It gives you the status of a martyr and a moral right to hate others. The bottom-line is that most of our problems are because we lose sight of the reality.
Unfortunately, in recent times, with the prevalent use of mobile phones and other electronic devices, the exposure to reality itself has become very rare. We watch a movie in which a person spends his entire life within 2 hours or so. And therefore, now the young children don’t have the patience to see the life unfold through the years. Every small obstacle in life looks like a full stop to them. No wonder we have such incredible increase in the suicide rates, esp. in the youth.
One of the poems of the famous poet – Rabindra Nath Tagore amply portrays the intentional distance that we have created from the reality.
The poem is about a man who is engrossed in reading a poem about the beauty of the moon. Suddenly, a gush of the breeze extinguishes the lamp. The reader is able to see the real moonlight and the moon. He realizes that the beauty of the moon is beyond words. The purpose of mindfulness is to extinguish the lamp of false language that prevents us from seeing the truth.
The most important driving force for humans that makes us different and more evolved then the animals is the mind. According to modern psychology, we have 3 kinds of mental instincts or brains – the reptile brain, the emotional brain and the neo-brain.
The reptilian brain is responsible for the basic survival. It triggers the fright, fight and flight response as the very basic response to every problem, whether it is a mad dog at your heels or your boss in your office. These responses are automated and happen beyond the active control of the thinking mind. Most of the wrong decisions and reactions are triggered by this part of the brain.
Limbic or Emotional brain is mainly responsible for the learning and memory. It is the part of the brain that provides us with greater flexibility of response than the animals. It produces context for negative and positive emotions and helps us to make an decision to avoid or counter a problem before it occurs. Construction of a house, discovery of all appliances and better living conditions of human beings as compared to the animals is because of this part of the brain. It helps to make smarter choices.
Neo-brain is responsible for higher wisdom and self-enlightenment. It is the part of brain that balances and regulates the functions of both the other parts.
What is mind?
Ancient Indian perspective of the mind
I am a graduate of Ayurvedic medicine. According to Ayurveda, mind is one of the basic elements of the 9 elements that make the universe (space, energy, heat, fluid, matter, mind, soul, time and dimension).
Ancient spiritual philosophies of India like Nyaya Darshana, Vaisheshik Darshana etc. define mind as the interface between the soul and the senses. Mind works just like the central processing unit of the computer or a calculator, which takes in the input and converts it into useful information for the user. So, in the form of mind, we have the most powerful computer of the universe and it is supposed to have hidden magical powers!
The basis of mindfulness is untangling the language induced traps of the mind.
According to the ancient philosophies, mind is of 3 types –
Satvic (balanced, tranquil, clear)
Rajasic (Vibrant, mobile, imbalanced)
Tamasic (dull, ignorant, oblivious)
The information or the stimuli we receive is processed by the mind. Therefore, the quality of the mind can change the processed information. For example if a beautiful woman is slighted
A satvik mind might not have any thought. It will receive the uncomplicated information and admire the beauty of the woman.
A rajasic mind might indulge in a yearning or desire for the company of the woman. It might even be envious of someone who happens to be close to her. Rajasic mind is induces attachment and possessiveness.
A tamasic mind might overlook the beauty of the woman, or indulge in base thoughts about her.
Here we see that the information is the same. However, processing of the information can significantly change the according to the kind of system processing it. For example, if you give same ingredients to the cooks belonging to different cuisines, they will handle them indifferent manner and the dishes produced can be starkly different in tastes.
These 3 minds work in the same way, producing different results from the same inputs. Some may say that the ideal state of mind is the Satvic state, when you have all the good ideas and thoughts, positivity and peace. However, the Satvic state of mind is just another blind-fold. Only it is different in colour. Consider that you are blind to the reality, and you have 3 options of the blindfolds to choose from, a white one (Satvic), a red one (rajasic) and a black one (tamasic). If you have the black blind-fold then you will hardly be able to see anything at all. You will see red things as black with the red blind-fold. White is still the best blind-fold to have as you can have a sense of white light through it. Therefore social norms and traditions focus on making the white blind-fold strong and more preferred. However, all blind-folds serve but one purpose – to hide the light or to hide the eyes from the light.
Another perspective of the blindfold concept can be visualized in the importance of blind-folds for a eye patient. When someone under goes an eye surgery, his eyes are covered by the bandage to safe guard the delicate and immature tissue from access light. However, once the eyes are completely cured and have regained their ability to see properly, the bandage is removed as a conscious choice. It appears that these blind-folds are for the safety of the immature souls we have. Since we are not able to tolerate the whole and complete truth, these blindfolds buy us time to develop a wholesome vision.
Mindfulness can be very resourceful for mental peace as well as the metabolic balance.
Many serious disorders like hypertension, diabetes, hormonal problems, kidney disorders, dementia etc. are very closely related to stress. According to the recent researches, stress can significantly increase the rate of occurrence of almost all kinds of disorders.
Every individual has a notion of
comfort and peace. This concept can be drastically different for everyone.
For example a person can be comfortable with a small house and a
small job, whereas other person might be quite frustrated with it.
Curiously, stress is least related to physical discomfort. In fact, people
like labourer who have a very physically stressful lifestyle and more
financial and social insecurity are found to have less stress. Stress is caused
when the personal expectations and beliefs are in contrast with the
current reality. Similarly, anxiety is a result of uncertainty mixed with fear.
Uncertainty can promote excitement too. However, when uncertainty points at
survival crises, then anxiety is the result.
Mindfulness helps an individual to connect with the present circumstances in an accepting manner.
Mindfulness is basically an experience beyond words. It is completely a personal experience that is defined and performed by an individual. It is as personal as a bathing or brushing routine. The end result is the same – personal hygiene. Mindfulness is rulelessness, it is going beyond the rules. Therefore there are no strict guidelines for following mindfulness. In mindfulness, we succeed by going more and more personal.
However, the procedures and guidelines in this book are meant to help the person experience mindfulness in a guided manner. He or she can choose to replicate the experience in their own way.
The most common problem with mindfulness or any kind of meditative practice is that it is that
most people are not able to sit quietly for a long time, with their eyes closed.
Besides, most importantly, most of them do not have time to meditate.
However, we need to understand that mindfulness is a state of mind and not of the body. If you are not able to sit in a particular posture for meditation, it is fine. In mindfulness, we need to learn to tune our mind to a certain peaceful frequency which can be done even while running! A certain physical posture is just a stepping stone for developing the mindful mental state. Here we can explore some guidelines that can help us to incorporate mindfulness in our daily practices and chores. Normally trash thoughts enter the mind only when your mind is not productively employed. It can be while chopping the vegetables, dusting the floor, or watering the flowers. Not much intellectual exertion is required while doing all these mundane everyday chores. So our mind shuts off the awareness to the present and starts to ruminate on unresolved thoughts, worries, emotional hurts, anger or regrets about past or worries about the future. We are told that we should not think negative thoughts. However, darkness cannot be dispelled without lighting a lamp. So darkness needs to be replaced and not subdued. Similarly, negative thoughts can be replaced by positive thoughts. However there is one problem with this approach. Every positive thought is a small part of a complete thought cycle. It is one side of a coin. On the other side, it has a equivalent negative thought. For example, suppose I want to work on a project and I start with a very positive imagination and attitude that I am going to succeed. However, my approach towards the work is inappropriate. In this case, my false positivity and hope keeps dragging me in the same wrong direction. Only a failure can make me see the fault in my approach. But the real problem lies here. When I fail after maintaining an absolutely positive attitude, it is like failing from a steep cliff. I completely break the backbone of my confidence and self-esteem. There is a huge possibility that I can decide to quit permanently.
Another side of the picture is the cautious and potentially negative attitude. I decide that I might fail and still push myself to try a work since I should be trying it. Since I have a notion of a potential failure deeply engrained in my mind, I might unconsciously put a lot of efforts in preparing for failure. I might not take a moderate and crucial risk, might miss a great opportunity since my orientation is to avoid failure and not to succeed. This is the other side of the positive attitude. With this attitude, there is a huge possibility that I will fail, or I will make a safe exit before I fail.
The essential point is that any orientation makes us blind to the Stark present reality. It works like a hallucination and helps to keep telling anxiety, fear or anger trigger under control. It especially works for people with strong past impressions, either of success or failure. Successful people might get over-confident and failed people might be negative. It is like choosing between a white blindfold and a black one. Mindfulness is about choosing not to blindfold you own eyes.
Mindfulness is staying in stark reality, without hope or fear about the results of our actions. For example, in the first case, if I just doing the work without being obsessed with any approach or belief, I will be able to clearly see the problem with my approach. Probably I will be able to correct it without experiencing a proper failure. I might not fail at all and eventually succeed. It is often observed that the beginners have a better problem solving approach since they are more creative and open-minded and acceptability towards the immediate present reality.
If we consider the other negative situation, it will not occur in the first place. Because when a person is completely present in the present, focusing on the task at hand, there will be no space to ruminate on negative thoughts. But, it easier said than done for the beginners.
When I started with mindfulness, I had a massive flow of negative thoughts. They would subside for few days and then get back at me. But it is important to realize that when you are in the middle of dangerous waters, you have to keep swimming. You just can’t quit. So I kept on reading books, blogs etc., listening and watching videos on mindfulness. Constant exposure to good company in any form is important. Since most of us who need mindfulness might not have good company all the time, it makes sense to have other resources like books, online audiobook or videos on positivity and mindfulness.
Sometimes, the negative thoughts might increase. It might look like a failure of mindfulness approach, but it is otherwise. Thoughts knotted up in the corners of your mind start emerging and flooding your consciousness like never before. It is a process to resolve past experiences. They will come to the consciousness and if you find them useless, they will be trashed. This happens more if you have freed your mind from the current thoughts. Therefore many people start remembering past painful and unresolved experiences when they start meditating. So if you start feeling the same, thumbs up! You are doing it right.
Mindfulness can be practiced every moment of our lives. But we can start with some specific daily chores that most of us do every-day and practice mindfulness in specific steps. After few months, the desired state of mindfulness becomes habitual.
This helps me to understand why most of the religions have a prayer for each event of the day – daybreak, meal times, before bed prayers etc. These are small verbal reminders for ensuring positivity and mindfulness in the current moment. Inspired by this concept, I have come up with following personal mindfulness rituals that help me to continue my baby-steps towards higher consciousness. Hope that they help you too.
The mindfulness topics detailed in this blog series are –
No time for meditation
Fear and mindfulness
Even the small things happening in life are very meaningful. These stories and interpretations about the common chores of life will help you appreciate the help beauty of small things in life.
If we learn to enjoy small things in life, we will not be happy in certain specific circumstances, but in every moment of our lives.