Habits and Yoga

Do you ever notice a disconnect between what you say you do, and what you actually do? I, for example, say that I practice yoga, but realistically make it into the yoga studio less then 3 times a month.

Gandhi on the Boardwalk by Adam Morris on 500px.com

I was reflecting on this in December while I was in India, wondering how I could “get” myself into a healthy yoga routine. The determination to bring about sudden change for a renewed commitment often fails, in the same way that the new years resolutions typically are forgotten by February. And determination against your natural will will often have other detrimental side effects.

I know successful change contains two key components:

  1. Build a habit.
  2. Find the joy in it.
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Vipassana Meditation

Vipassana Meditation is an ancient art form of mastery over our habitual reactions.

Wild Maine Blueberries by Adam Morris on 500px.com

When I mention going on a silent 10-day meditation retreat, people’s reactions are often respond with a glazed look and sort of a “I could never stay silent for 10 days” kind of a response.

But having been through it, keeping your mouth shut is easy. Your mind still chatters away, and observing this is just part of the fun. Developing the strength to sit comes one step at a time, and is why you go… Not a prerequisite.

Vipassana meditation is the practice at the heart of Buddhism, with an objective of enlightenment. As Daniel Ingram noted in his book, “Mastering the Core Teaching of the Buddha”, enlightenment is often misunderstood, sometimes to the point that people don’t believe it exists in the world today. In fact, Vipassana meditation spells out a clear practice that leads to enlightenment in an achivable manner. From his own experience, Daniel approached it with determination and effort, but found it less challenging than getting his medical degree.

The concept behind Vipassana meditation is that suffering exists, and, and starts at the level of sensations in the form of craving or aversion. The meditation is cultivating a practice of observing these sensations — that is, learning how to observe without reacting with craving or aversion, such that your suffering will be eradicated. How cools is that?

As a side effect, I’ve found when I practice, my mind is more calm, and I approach my day with more equanimity, being able to handle situations that arise with greater clarity… and less of the “why did you do this to me?” kind of junk which sidetracks the mind from functioning rationally. Yea. Cool.

Forgiveness

 

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

– Gandhi

Winter in Toronto by Adam Morris on 500px.com

When angry or holding resentment, the way out is forgiveness. This usually comes naturally at some point, but after a confrontation, there can be a good chunk of time where the natural impulse is hold on to that resentment, generating ill will towards your adversary, almost as if it were a punishment for the pain that has been caused.

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These endless thoughts

It started as a week long Mind Chatter exercise for the Creativity & Personal Mastery class, where I wrote down the thoughts in my head periodically during the day, and the emotional tenor that I felt at the time (and whether they felt positive or negative).

Niagara Falls by Adam Morris on 500px.com

At the end of the week, I gathered the half-dozen pages of thoughts I had managed to capture, and categorized them. What I discovered is that I tend think about the same thing, over and over and over. Or if not the same thing, the same type of thing. Often like a broken record. It pointed out how insanely redundant, pointless, and often negative my thoughts are.

This was the beginning to becoming aware of my thoughts. Over time, this exercise has transformed into a check when I’m feeling frustrated or annoyed. I survey what thoughts I have been having, what the intent is behind them, and what the emotional undertone is (irritation, frustration, fear, thoughtfulness, grace, loving kindness…)

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See a table

What does it mean to truly see, to see things as they are?

To see things as they are, is to see them without interpretation or judgement. If you look at a table, and think “I see a table”, the table is lost, and you don’t see the table, but your mind’s interpretation. This would become apparent if I asked you to look away, and then tell me the color of the table. Perhaps you would respond, “brown”, or “white”.

But if you look more closely, you see that this is not true. The table isn’t one uniform color. If this was true it would look flat and two dimensional. It has a variety of shades, tones, and even various colors reflecting off in different lights. Perhaps it is a wood table, and has complex textures and grains. Maybe another object in the room, of a different color, is creating a reflection in the table. Look again, and you see a rich variety of colors, not a single one.

And aside from color, I could ask what shape the table is. A square with four legs, you might respond. But if you look again, what you see is probably more like a stretched parallelogram with various extensions. Most likely you can only see a couple legs. Four legs exist only in your memory and interpretation. And if you walk around the table, at every moment, the shape that you see changes.

This changing shape is much more true. It is unique, based on your current experience. To describe it in words would most likely fill a novel. Even so, it is difficult to convey with words, as words themselves communicate through the learned meaning attached to them. Over time you come to understand meaning in words, but this meaning is built up of your past experiences. Specific connotations of words and phrases can vary significantly from person to person, especially between cultures, so words themselves are not even constant between people.

So, what started as a simple table, is now a complex object, which you naturally simplify based on your historical knowledge of what a table is and how you use it. But this label of a “table” is not the truth of your experience.

If this is true of a table, how about everything else you’re thinking about during the day?

The HSBC security device

HSBC recently decided to send out security devices to all of their customers, as an extra measure of security on the website. I postponed activating it until today because I find it quite irritating to have an additional “thing” I’ve got to carry around with me and this extra step when logging into my account.

It is interesting how this irritating plays out. In my head there was a dialog of whether or not it made sense to switch to a new bank account. Yes, it is bothersome, but I transfer money to other HSBC accounts, and doing this from another bank would be even more bothersome, so bottom line, I am not going to switch.

Then, I kept having thoughts of how I would seek my revenge for this unwarranted attack on my now more complicated log-in procedure. First, I’d lose my card. Then, I’d complain when I was out and didn’t have my card with me. Finally I’d press the button repeatedly until the battery wore out.

The worst part, is that these thoughts are just background mental chatter, and are not something I would take action on. But when I think them, I feel even more irritated. So really, I’m just generating thoughts that make me feel more miserable. This apparent attack in my head on some nameless corporation serves only as an attack myself. What purpose does that serve?

None. It is pure pain-inducing silliness.

Meaning in what we see

The street was crowded this morning, as I walked into the place where I work. It was a bit annoying. There were people everywhere. Not like in India, but like a Monday morning in London.

London is quite a diverse city. Lots of cultures, ages, backgrounds, walking paces. There was an elderly lady with a stroller. A few touristy looking people and construction workers. And tons of people in work cloths bustling along.

I wasn’t annoyed specifically at any one of them – I didn’t even know “them”, yet still they managed to collectively emerge into the exact location where I was trying to walk. I just wanted to walk at my own bustling pace, and couldn’t. Annoyed.

So I turned left and walked back along a different street. There were no people there. The street was oddly quiet and peaceful. And, yes, I felt happy again.

In Chennai, India, there are people everywhere. There are just a lot of people. And they move at a very different pace. It boggles my mind… yet it never bothers me. London is practically uninhabited in comparison, and yet I get easily disturbed. The only difference seems to be that in London, I am trying to get somewhere.

I seem to have attributed the sight of all these people as an obstacle to my walking pace, and felt annoyed as a result. Not really a productive reaction. If I was slightly more aware, then I would have just accepted that this was so, and then turned left without any of these thoughts that left me feeling more stressed.

This is easy for me to grasp in this situation, but how many situations during the day do I react to something I see negatively, with some fictional meaning that I’ve created?

Experiencing happiness

My life changed when I experienced the truth of being happy as a natural state of being.

Prof. Srikumar Rao explains that most of us grow up believing that there is something we need do, get or be in order to be happy. The ineffective model most of us employ is:

IF we get this, THEN we can do this, and THEN we will be happy.

Instead, happiness is not something dependent on conditions in the outside world, but a natural state that arises within. This means that it is not something we need to strive for, or even better – something we will loose when what we get disappears. Unfortunately we have a propensity to spend our lives teaching ourselves the opposite.

This is a pleasant concept, sure… but it doesn’t mean much until you experience this truth. Actually, in my opinion, it is quite useless unless you experience it.

Each person’s experience of the world is different – for me, life changed when I experienced this internal, eternal feeling of joy and peace of simply being – a feeling of appreciation and love for the present moment as something not dependent on anything external. It has consequences that have altered the way I perceive the world around me and the way I choose to act.

This is not to say I always feel happy. It is not about clinging to happiness – as my experience is constantly changing and sensations in my body are continuously arising and passing away. Instead of clinging to an emotion, I feel an acceptance of this constant change, and awareness of the mental pain I create – and through this awareness I naturally stop creating this mental pain. It is not something I find easy describing in words – and it really means nothing until you experience it.

Still, I do forget a lot, and get stressed quite often. But some things, once experienced, there is no turning back.

Art of listening

Passive listening is letting the other person speak. Active listening is helping the other person communicate their message to you.

Active listening and yesterday’s post to slow down share a common thread: when you take the time to give your full attention to what is occurring in the present moment, you open yourself up to experiencing something new and expand your awareness of possibility.

When you truly listen to someone, they will open up in ways you might not expect.

Perhaps we also need active internet reading… considering that typical high-literacy readers read at most 28% of the words during a visit to a webpage. I would tell you more, but I only skimmed the article.

Meditation and the right-brain view

Through focusing the mind or with determined observation, meditation increases self-awareness and provides a safe space of emptiness where creative thought naturally flows. Further reflecting on Jill Taylor’s video, this space of meditation seems to be similar to the right-brained state she describes.

This week, I am monitoring my thoughts throughout the day. After a 35 minute tube ride and 10 minute walk, I realized that I had barely noticed the past hour… my mind was busy racing through details, reciting e-mails to be written, checking of todo items, and thinking about what I need to get done. My mind doesn’t know how to take a rest.

After 45 minutes when I caught myself, it is as if I woke up to the world around me. The rain drops still on the trees, the stillness of a street at night. My walk became much more vivid. And my mind stayed quiet.

For a few minutes, at least.