The scary ride called 2016

I possibly could not have envisioned 2016 to unfold the way it did – meandering in its complexity, perplexing me with difficult shots to call, alarming me with fears that I had been nursing but, in the end, mirroring the courage with which I have aways hit back when going gets tough. It has been the culmination of all that I have aspired to through a toiling journey inwards. Oh, and it has been hell at times. Believe me.

This entry is more for me, because face it, you don’t know me. You don’t even know yourself, do you? And if you are smiling at this statement that I have made, perhaps you know what I am talking about. Do you ask yourself what are you afraid of? Have you introspected why you made certain decisions? We don’t normally because we are not required to. Unless the pain cracks you open. The inner unhappiness becomes too loud to ignore. And once you start heeding your inner voices, they show you the mess you are carrying inside. But, as the veil lifts from this mess, you eventually get to be aware. And that awareness is enough. That is where the light starts. This light will guide you to your own golden place. It is like a secret chamber made just for you. Your chamber might look very different from mine. That peace and silence are yours to find.

Now, I can write a fluff blog describing the hundreds of travels I did (and I can show off!) and some success stories. I can boast of what an amazing year it has been. But I don’t want to. I want to share the real joy I have found which has nothing to do directly with partying on the beautiful white sand beaches in Koh, Thailand (I did that), floating on a houseboat in Kashmir (I did), seeing the night fall over Udaipur palace (yep), chanting at 5 am dawn fire in Auroville (seriously beautiful), meeting a fascinating teacher and inspiring people in the hills of Himachal (I did), going crazy in Bali (did, did), roaming around Singapore (yep), or taking a family trip back to our ancestral home in Panna. Ok yes, little enviable details do help! But in a way, all these did put me in situations which kept my inner journey on. It is less about where you are than who you are and what you see.

  • Solo trips told me that I had settled in my comfort zones and it was awkward opening my heart to strangers and experiences. I pushed and these strangers turned into lifetime friends and mentors.
  • They taught me to be comfortable in my skin, in my beliefs, not succumb to live someone else’s life. I shared my voice more fearlessly and got some articles published on leading places such as Entrepreneur, DailyO, Tribune, DNA, EduTimes etc. Frankly, I could never have imagined this a year ago.
  • I realized I had been taking things and people for granted. Some books changed my perspective and perhaps transformed me for life (esp Marshall Rosenberg’s NVC books). The joy came through reconnecting to age old friends or cousins, or even your own parents. I noticed that I started listening more, feeling more what the other person is saying and going through. A strange feeling of ‘oneness’ took over. I realized that you cannot love one person unless you love everyone. There is no special love. I find empathy to be a much better word than love these days.
  • I smile more often because I appreciate what I have. Such a horribly cliched sentence but it is what it is.
  • And I got a tattoo which read ‘no fear’ in April. The moment I saw the design, I knew it was the one. Little did I know that I was about to witness it so closely in the months to come.

Sorry, it is all too much in the surface but the fact is my experience is mine and you cannot learn from it. Just like you cannot learn swimming by watching YouTube (yep, I tried!), you cannot grow from my journey. You have to find your own. And the first step is to look inwards, know yourself and help yourself in conquering the fears you have harbored, work towards the happiness you seek and eliminate the causes of pain. Ha! How simple. I wish it was.

Now, let me see – did I fulfill any resolution from year before? I think I was wise enough to not make resolutions but I did expect that I would create some voodoo magic in my business – I did not. It grew and I got loving students and that is happier than if had I scaled crazily compromising on the experience I was creating (sour grapes?). I did not attain some unbelievable success. I am still an unknown writer and entrepreneur. But I think it’s okay. I mean I am fine with it. I feel more complete than I have ever before.

So that is what 2016 was for me. It was a fire that transformed, a bitter pill that had to be taken to come out of the coma, a splash of cold water on your face early in the morning, a point of no return.

One advice – have faith.

One lesson learned – all that matters is your growth. Anything that will keep you away from your growth will make you miserable. Find it, change it – keep growing. There is no substitute for inner growth.

Stop going nuts over social media. Marilyn Monroe died of drugs and people quote her on self-help matters. Thank you very much, I am fine on my own. Find out for yourself, everything out there is a marketing message. Read real books. Talk to real people.

As Mark Manson says, stop giving a f*** about stupid things in life. Go, live. Do.

Fog is out there. Truth is out there. Discern.
  

Bali Diary 1: Initial Hiccups

SwastiastuEngken kabare?
[Hello, how are you? from Bali!]

I find myself opening the Eat Pray Love and I move directly to the Bali part. As soon as I read how Elizabeth Gilbert landed in Ubud for 30 days, I smile. Because this is where I have arrived. And weirdly enough, there are so many overlaps with Gilbert’s story and mine that I feel like chasing Gilbert on her trip to destiny. I do realize that it is nothing to be chased but that I have to attract my own destiny. Yet, I am a fan of Gilbert and her lovely essays and talks. Not so much of Eat Pray Love but that’s okay. May be the book is mocking at me right now.

Anyway, I landed in Bali in a pretty hollowed out state. I had a lot to figure out and make the most of my time on an alien land. Going out of India after a hiatus of 4 years, I confess I felt a bit vulnerable and lonely. But it was a solo trip after all and I wanted to face whatever demons were lurking inside. However, to keep a balance, I had joined the Tribewanted group, which is a community of remotely working entrepreneurs in Ubud. I felt it would give me a community feeling and a social in as soon as I arrived. My stay was already figured out through AirBnB. So, all I had to do was show up.

My bedroom in Ubud
My bedroom in Ubud

The hardest part of solo trips are when your mind tends to brood over and remembers the happy past moments which are gone. I found myself brooding whenever I woke up or was alone in the room. It becomes difficult to come out of these, so one has to really try and keep a watch on any negative thoughts. This is the time when your friend circle matters. Staying in touch with family and friends helped me stay calm. Because ultimately you are in a beautiful place and new moments are out there waiting for you. This is where it turned a blessing that I had joined Hubud, the co-working space, and the Tribewanted community.

Hubud has an awesome vibe and is located overlooking the beautiful paddy fields. It is well designed and makes you want to be happy. I decided to spend most of my time there and make friends. This step is crucial in not letting your solo trip get too solo if you know what I mean. You enjoy your solitude when you are feeling peaceful from within. But loneliness is not fun. So, give yourself time to be able to transition from feeling lonely to enjoying the solitude.

It has been only 3 days in Ubud so far and seems much longer. Bali is beautiful and cheap. My homestay and room is very pretty. As I am settling in and starting to feel comfortable, I am hoping to really dig in and get a flavor of ton of things that Bali has to offer. Stay tuned for more updates. Send me your love and blessings 🙂

Breakfast place view
Breakfast place view
  

Back to Auroville

With so many places to visit, I rarely find myself excited about revisiting what I have already seen. But the love affair that began with Auroville this February has brought me back to the Neverland – this time, for longer duration with an open-ended plan. This is the place which introduced me to Mindfulness and Consciousness. After all, Dec-Feb are the most beautiful days here with lovely breeze and lush greenery. And I have heard writers and artists hang out here often 🙂

As I sit quietly in my serene Guesthouse, I ponder upon the last few weeks when Chennai floods hit, chaos ensued and my trip seemed in danger of abandonment. But choices emerged as they always do and I improvised as I always do. Sometimes, it is better not to plan too much and let yourself drift. I got a fresh loaf of bread from bakery this morning and some eggs. And there are these cute looking bananas. The idea of rustic meals, minimalistic living, and just reading and writing for the heck of it excites me more than a 5-star vacation. In the end, I am here and looking forward to what this visit entails. I distinctly remember the last special visit in February. Read this Quora answer to see how I fell in love with Auroville.

I am here on a creative break after working hard over last few months. Beyond that, there is not much plan. However, I did scratch few notes for myself. And perhaps, this is meaningful for you too when/if you go on a self-exploration or a new place.

Goals:
– broaden the perspective
– feel driven and refreshed
– reinforce peace and value of meaningful relationships
– meditate, yoga, be mindful
– discover yourself, cut out the noise. Awaken the dreamer and the artist
Do’s:
– Take a bike and explore everyday
– Talk to new people everyday (use solar kitchen, Auroville units, visitor center etc)
– Eat what you like, experiment (try new things)
– Get ‘your’ time. Relish the solitude
– Be thankful for this time
Dont’s:
– Coop up in the guesthouse room
– Waste all morning sleeping
– Overwork, this is your creative break
– Let fears take over
– Be stingy
– Finishing the book is not the goal but to write freely is

A dear friend reminds that having any goals is against the idea of free flowing. So yeah, chuck the goals, let things happen 🙂

 

Auro1
Auro2
  

TMJ 4: 10 things I learned in 10 days of Silence and Meditation

This is the fourth post in The Meditation Journal series. You can read previous posts here.

I hear a faint bell at 4 am that signals that the day is on. I walk out in the dawn that is yet to come, clutch the blanket tightly around me and climb few stairs up to the Meditation Hall. In my assigned seat, I sit down cross legged on the meditation cushion, back straight and eyes closed. A day of Vipassana begins in that dark hall as my breathing goes slow and slower. My body rebels and so does my brain. They want to be in control as they have always been. They threaten me with aches and distraction but I know even the wildest bull can be tamed. So, I continue breathing, watching my body and observing the sensations.

10 hours of this exercise every day for 10 days – days that you spend in quiet, contemplation and a journey inward. You do not speak or communicate, you partake of a simple vegetarian meal once a day, you do not keep your phone, book or diary. You just be and observe. Perhaps, it is the first time when you really see yourself for who you are. And, this is what Vipassana is all about.

[Vishesh (special) + pashya (to see) = to observe things as they are]

It is an excruciating journey that has cured drug and cigarette addicts on one hand and scared the weak-willed away on the other. You get what you put in. At the end of 10 days at Dharamkot, Vipassana course, I came out although not with a halo but a subtle glow of self-realization. This is what I learned.

Vipassana Campus, Dharamkot
Vipassana Campus, Dharamkot

1. Experience is everything in the realms of spirituality

While we can learn how to make fire from someone else’s experience, reading about meditation can never make you an expert at it. Gautam Buddha’s achieving enlightenment does nothing to my spiritual growth. The people who have demystified the causes of human suffering can only give us a path to follow but unless I walk that path, I cannot eliminate my suffering. So, practice is the only way. While I had been reading about meditation and consciousness for some time, sitting 8-10 hours per day meditating for 10 days hammered down the concept in my mind in a way that intellectual discussions cannot.   

No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.Gautama Buddha, Sayings Of Buddha

Continue reading TMJ 4: 10 things I learned in 10 days of Silence and Meditation

  

TMJ 3: Breath counting technique of Meditation

This is the third post in The Meditation Journal series. You can read previous posts here.

I had tried Meditation previously as well. But except for sitting with a quiet mouth, this was hardly an achievement. I tried to follow random advice including focusing on a physical object or focusing on a mental vision but it simply did not work for me.

In Auroville, Partho said something interesting. He brought every point back to ‘living in the moment‘. What did it mean really?

When we say that we cannot concentrate, we are simply referring to how occupied our mind is with our past and future. But if we can bring ourselves to focus only on present moment, there would be less running around for the mind to do. The former is known as the kshipta (scatter brained) state of mind and the latter is ekagra (one-pointed). After all, through meditation, we are trying to cultivate a calm/ekagra (one-pointed) mind so that we can think in a sahaj bhaav and then move on to niruddha mind (fully arrested in concentration). The very meaning of meditating is to engage in thought or contemplation. The first step is to prepare a mental environment conducive for such an act. This is also the step where most of us fail and drop out.

src: pinterest

Having failed at my previous attempts at meditating, I decided to follow a proven meditation technique after coming back from Auroville. I read about the breath counting technique (src: David Michie’s Buddhism for busy people) and it seemed to be a good starting point. To put it simply, you sit in a comfortable posture and try counting your breaths – as many as you can. Of course, it is hardly as easy as it sounds. The trick is to focus on the breath and count it. This is the precise procedure-

  1. Sit in a comfortable posture (on ground cross legged, not necessarily padmasana, or even chair)
  2. Close your eyes
  3. Inhale and while exhaling, count your breath focusing on the tip of your nose
  4. Every time you exhale air through your nostril, you increase your count
  5. The moment you realize your thoughts have drifted away, you reset your count to zero
  6. Do this counting for two minutes or as long as you can. The goal is to count at least 10 breaths in a go

The essence of this technique is to engage your mind in the process of counting so that it is not chasing other thoughts. But after counting 3 or 4 breaths, I started thinking of my work. ‘I have to pay the phone bill’, ‘I should call my CA’, ‘I haven’t yet booked my ticket’ etc etc. ‘Oh, I was supposed to count breaths, lets start again’. You get the picture. It is hard to even count 10 breaths sincerely in the beginning. What you can do is to make the process of counting even more engaging. So like we are counting on exhaling, start saying ‘and’ as you inhale. Thus, we have given our mind something to do both on inhaling and exhaling. Good. Remember, our mind is like an energetic pet Spaniel constantly looking for a new ball to fetch. Keep it occupied so that in the next step, we can start stilling it.

My first week was hard. I barely reached 6-7 breaths at a stretch. But then, it improved. This is how my next couple of weeks were like – I would sit for a minimum of 10 minutes and be able to count breaths till 10-15 at one time.

The main challenge is to not give up. You will have a troubled time counting breaths and you seem to be getting no where. It is easy to think of discontinuing this futile exercise. I had made up my mind to sit and meditate everyday whether I reach the desired goal or not. I began with a strong will and kept at it. Don’t look for results, just show up for your practice.

It reminds me of another beautiful quote Partho told us –

The thing about habit – if you take out ‘h’, ‘a bit’ remains. If you take out ‘a’, ‘bit’ remains; if you take out ‘b’, ‘it’ still remains.

So, make it your habit. Also, I did not fuss too much over the timing or rules. I decided that I will find my way of stilling my mind. I am not a morning person and I meditate around 1:30-2 pm. Who cares? Sit at night or spend five minutes in your office chair trying to do this. Seriously, who cares? The important thing is to keep doing it instead of trying to get it right. Buddha himself has said that he doesn’t intend that people take his word on the face value. He wanted them to try the process of awakening for themselves. Meditation is an intimate experience that cannot be learned through books or blogs. And what worked for me may not work for you.

src: blog.freepeople.com

At this point, it may still not be clear what we are achieving from this. Let it be. Keep a journal of your experience. How is this little practice of meditating impacting rest of your day? It’s ok even if we are not seeing any changes. How are you feeling? Just keep a note of it. You may not realize it but you have already started the process of transformation. Keep going.