“I can think. I can wait. I can fast.”

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“What is it that you’ve learned, what you’re able to do?”

“I can think. I can wait. I can fast.”

“That’s everything?”

“I believe, that’s everything!”

– Siddhartha, Hermann Hesse

– The famous dialogue from  Hermann Hesse’s great novel, Siddhartha. This is the reply the protagonist, Siddhartha, gives to his prospect employer who interviews him on his knowledge and job skills. This novel and I, grew up together…. It has given me different meanings and answers to the same questions I asked at different stages of my life. Today, when I sat to write my weekend blog and had trouble focusing and got vexed in the process, this dialogue from my ‘guide’ knocked at the doors of my mind.

Can I think?
Yes,  a lot!

We all can think. But ‘a lot’ is the problem. Do we think only that which is necessary? And are we able to think with the required degrees of attention about which we are supposed to think?  In majority of the cases, the answer in no. We think too much about unnecessary things and too little about the necessary ones. In a day, almost 90 % of our thinking is either repetitive, redundant, unnecessary or imaginative. Conscious imagination is a wonderful work of the mind, but an unconscious creation or recreation is a mere waste of time and energy. Nothing is more detrimental to a productive and peaceful life than a mind that is on an ‘auto-run’ mode.

And the next, can I wait?
Hardly.
To wait means to be patient. And to be patient means to respect the pace of life. There is no point in trying to run ahead of life. We simply cannot outsmart life. It is similar to running within a moving train with a hope that our running would take us to our destination faster. The best way to wait is to shift the focus of the mind from the object of waiting to something else. This method is effective because the perception of time is nothing but the perception of an experience /incident. In waiting, there is no experience or any incident happening, and so, time comes to a standstill which is very difficult for the mind to handle. The best way is to engage the mind in some activity during the waiting period. That is how some of the great books were born in prisons and exiles.
 
And finally, can I fast?
Very occasionally and with great difficulty…

What is the psychology and spirituality behind fasting? Fasting increases our sustaining capacity, tolerance level and will power. The will power is not just about bearing the physical hunger, but at a higher level, it is also about bearing  mental and emotional hungers, and agonies of life. This is the deeper meaning behind the ritual of fasting which is practiced in almost all the religions of the world. All those who can survive through tough times without succumbing are the ones who can fast –  those who can fast their pride, egos, desires, and aspirations. There are no short cuts to learn the art of fasting. It comes only by practice and determination.

Siddhartha was a smart man. He knew no trade or craft but knew well the fundamental skills required for survival. And he was right when he said, “I believe, that’s all.”

The Good, the Bad, and the Balanced

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As I grow, I realize that life is not about good or bad, but is about balance. It seems that Creation is concerned about only one thing – balancing of the dual forces. In fact, duality is inbuilt in the ‘system’ to tally itself and be in balance, or the ‘zero’  state, or the neutral state. Philosophy calls it the peaceful state. Probably that explains why the ‘too good’ people and the ‘too bad’ people face more sufferings and turmoil in their lives than those who take life easy and as it comes. The turmoil that is experienced by the extreme characters (or forces)  is nothing but the act of balancing, similar to the swinging of a spring balance to attain its ‘zero tilt’  state.
Probably we need religions that are less restrictive and more inclusive, and less serious and more joyful.

Slow and steady wins the race: in the context of new year resolutions.

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“Nature does not hurry. Yet everything is accomplished. ”
– Lao Tzu.

We are three days old into the new year and I am sure many of us would be already struggling to keep alive our new year resolutions. I am certainly one of them. The reason for such quick failure and eventual give-up is, in majority of the cases, not due to  lack of determination but due to excess of ‘start-up energy’. In our enthusiasm, we bite more than we can chew. Quite naturally, our body/mind, which is not used to such rigorous schedules, buckles. When a series of failures occur in our new year – resolution  implementation, our mind gets discouraged and we give up. Our old habits, which were waiting and watching in the sidelines all the while, quickly catch up with us. And so, 2015 is set to continue in the way 2014 continued from 2013 and before.
How does an airplane take off? It starts in the runway by running slowly at first, then gradually gaining speed, and finally taking off from the ground. Even in the air, it gains heights in stages. The implementation and accomplishments of our resolutions are similar tasks too. We set resolutions to change our lives, to change ourselves. Therefore their implementation should also be a well thought, planned, and phased process. The golden quote, ‘slow and steady wins the race’ is no more appreciated nowadays, but holds good even today. Our resolutions are not a race against anyone outside, but against our own weaknesses. We have a wide range of weaknesses with ‘under-doing’ at one end of the range and ‘over-doing’ at the other. As the world and life around us gets more fast, more pushy, more demanding, and less tolerant, it is the weakness of ‘over-doing’ that more often surfaces in our attitudes than ‘under-doing’. In such a scenario, the fundamental and first resolution should be – start slow, go steady,  and gain momentum incrementally. This is the ‘engine resolution’ that can pull our other resolutions. Set achievable goals, attain them, celebrate the ‘small’  accomplishments, and inspire yourself to set higher goals.

All the best for the accomplishment of your resolutions!

Choose Your Battles

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“The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. ” –  Stephen Covey

From the moment we step out of our home, and sometimes even from the moment we wake up from the bed, and till the time we return, we face a variety of problems –  the big and the small battles of life. We are not always at liberty to choose these battles nor do we have the power to control the number of ordeals we go through in a day, but certainly a considerable number of them are choosable , or in other words, avoidable. In a day we come across numerous instances that require our mental and emotional grit to deal with. In most cases, the bigger or important ones are not the issue because we are mentally prepared for their occurrences and they may also be those problems that require our attention. But it is the tiny irritations, ego clashes, provocations  and uncalled-for verbal spats that have the potential to distract us and turn our day upside-down. How many people lose their temper at traffic jams and yell at the honking guys behind them, and in turn get yelled back and aggravate the situation to bullying, thereby attract the attention of the traffic policeman and waste precious time and energy in the process. The only outcome of such ‘battles’  is that people end up going late to their destinations – Not to mention the headache they incurred at the ‘venue’ which did not leave them the whole day. How many times an impulsive, unrestrained snap at a provoking and gossip mongering office mate turned into a noisy and ugly verbal spat tarnishing ones image and reputation! These are just a few (in)famous examples.  Such ‘battles’ come in various forms and intensities. Most of such problems are better dealt by ‘not-dealing’. It does not mean that one lacks the guts to deal with such apparently trivial tussles of life, but it means that he or she is conserving their energy for far more important matters of the day. It means that the person has priorities well in place and will not succumb to any distractions whatsoever. Simply put, it means that the person is focused, and has his eyes firmly set on his goal. We may fight these ‘small battles’ too, provided we choose to take up the fight. It should not be that the battle chooses to pull us into it, in which case it simply means that we are not in control of ourselves. The next time a situation demands your time and energy and you feel tempted to accept the ‘duel’, restrain for a moment and ask yourself whether it is worthy of your precious time and energy. Ask yourself whether you want to fight the rats, or the lions.

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Christ Consciousness

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To observe the birthday of Jesus with gifts and festivities shows some respect and attention to the ideals of his life. But to meditate and prepare your mind for the holy occasion of Christmas, that you may experience within yourself the birth of a new consciousness of universal brotherhood and love for all living creatures, is to really celebrate Christmas. Drive away from your mind all pride and prejudices, that you may fittingly hold the omnipresent Christ Consciousness in your love-expanded bosom.
− Paramahansa Yogananda

Keats’s bird drenching in Beethoven’s rain…

“Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
       Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,
       Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
       Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
               Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal yet, do not grieve;
       She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
               For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!”
– from ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ and ‘Moonlight Sonata’

Celebrating in Spirit

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Christmas is in the air! So is shopping, fun, and frolic. Apart from the few hours spent in the church on the eve, for majority of the Christmas celebrators, the rest of the time is all about gifts, get-togethers and parties. In a world reeling with excess in everything, it might be of some help if ask a few fundamental questions about this festival and the way we celebrate it.

First of all, why do we celebrate Christmas?

Because it is the birthday of Jesus Christ.

Who is Jesus Christ?

A Messiah, a spiritual giant, Man among men, Son of God…

That is fine. But why should ‘we’ celebrate His birthday?

Because we love Him.

Why do we love Him?

Because He loved us.

How did He love us?

By showing humanity that God is Love, and not Power; by forgiving , blessing, and thereby showing us the way of compassion from His Cross; and by living His life as His message.

Indeed His birth is a Gift to humanity and a milestone in the history of religion and philosophy. But how does this all relate to the way we are celebrating Christmas? Love, compassion, and forgiveness – these are the corner stones of Christ’s teachings. Where and how are they reflected in the way we celebrate Christmas in present times? I am not a sober person. I love to play and have fun. But if fun and frolic are related to a certain event, then it is only sensible that the spirit of that particular event be integrated into our celebrations.  While shopping for Christmas, also buy a pair of shoes or a sweater for the old man begging in the street you daily pass by…. Or end a cold war (or a war of words) and say hello to a friend or a colleague with whom you fell apart…. Or go to an orphanage or an old age home and lunch with them; if you can sing, then sing to them…. In short, try to imitate Christ. ­That is, extend your heart to everyone, without measuring or judging, who cross your path. By doing this, we go beyond the symbolisms of festivals. We take the event to a higher level where it is more meaningful and satisfying. Every time you are compassionate, Christ is born. Each time you forgive, you are reciprocating His love. When you celebrate in spirit, it is Christmas every day. (And you can push the shopping and partying part to the end of the year!)

Merry Christmas !