Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Desire

This post has been the toughest in the series so far. Tough because of jet lag (:P) and also because desire is so multifarious and omnipresent. My experience of desire, of any and all kinds put together, tells me it is inexhaustible. It exists in endless supply, mutating, manifesting, intensifying, invigorating and exhausting. Desire is the cause of both great happiness and great sadness and both pass in their turn as desire renews itself with a different face. Desire is also motivation and aspiration; the root of the drive to do something beyond just surviving.

"To want to get rid of desire, in the quest for everlasting peace and happiness, is itself a desire; a desire that we will never be able to fulfill for desire is written into our very nature as human beings. It is what sets us apart from other animals; that we are programmed to move beyond surviving."


I must admit I was more than mildly surprised and glad to hear this in our first session, now exactly two weeks ago. I heaved a sigh of relief knowing that I wasn't going to be told that I must give up all my worldly pleasures to achieve enlightenment; that it was possible to live with the same intensity of emotion without it affecting my equilibrium (personal confession: my emotional equilibrium, or lack of thereof, was part of the reason I was in that course in the first place. The other reason I was there was because of intellectual curiosity sparked off by what a friend experienced through the same course a few months ago).

But now I am digressing all over the place. To get back to desire.

One of the paradoxes that I've always had trouble resolving in what I call the "detachment doctrine". Almost every philosophy and self-help paradigm preaches detachment and creating a distance between oneself and the situation. My problem with this doctrine is that in the kind of detachment preached, I cannot find the motivation to act. So the question that plagues is that are desire and peace at loggerheads? Can they never co-exist? And as I said in a previous post of mine, personally I'd rather give up peace than give up the idea of desire.

However, to get a different handle on desire, consider this proposition that Sadhguru put forward: It is not desire that brings you misery. It is that even in desiring, you have not moved beyond survival. Only your survival standards have gotten higher but in your minds desire is still seen only in the perspective of survival. So you desire money, fame, power, sex, comfort and so and so forth. Those desires need to be indulged in but with the awareness that they are survival desires, that they will go through phases and while one will and should rejoice and mourn them, one need not disturb oneself internally over them.

Desires that go beyond survival, whether it is in the realm of intellectual innovation or spiritual growth, are by their very nature, desires that don't cause misery. The quest here is for something internal that does not necessarily have a physical manifestation. These abstract desires are also boundless and never ending but here each step is a step higher and each level of fulfillment has a satisfaction all its own without bringing with it the frustration that there is still so much more to achieve. Here also one encounters failure but failure in this realm does not bring with it misery. Disappointment yes, but with it also the strength to move on and do more.

In the first hearing, the above two paragraphs sounded eerily like the "detachment doctrine" to me. However, what Sadhguru goes on to say is this: there is your physical self and your non-physical, abstract self. What one needs to do is to restrict the joys and pains of the physical self and not let it affect the equilibrium of the non-physical or abstract self. It is when the non-physical self gets affected that there is a loss of peace and calm. Physical or survival desires are externally motivated, today largely by the "keeping up with the Jones'" syndrome. The reason we get so strongly affected by them is because we have fallen into the trap of defining our abstract selves (or many a time not even realizing that there is something in the human being that pushes it to go beyond just physical survival) in physical terms with reference to others.

So what is important is to not try to get rid of desire but to understand the different kinds of desire and keep each one in perspective and let it affect only that much of ourselves; to not let physical desires become the ruling passion of our lives.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Responsibility

My idea, and I'll be presumptuous enough to say that most people's idea of responsibility is one of a duty to be done, of being accountable, of a set of rules to be followed, and of being the causative agent of a consequence. In this sense, responsibility is burdensome. There is always the stress of having to be "right" else to face the music, the risk of being blamed for the consequences, the pressure of other people being dependent on you and the power, pleasure and pain of being able to conduct another person's life even for a tiny moment. Stress is almost the spouse of this responsibility then isn't it? But then evading it isn't entirely pleasant either. Afterall we all want to be married (most of us atleast)! Evasion of this kind of responsibility brings with it a sense of guilt and paradoxically, there is an almost instictive desire to take on as little of it as is possible for none of us want to be blamed for that which goes wrong.

In understanding responsibility in this manner, what we have done is to link it inexorably with action. Not just link it, but make it an afterthought to action. One has "done" something so one must be "responsible" for it. It becomes a matter of staking claim. One takes responsibility (and thus, praise and admiration) willingly and voluntarily when the going is good and shuns it as far as possible when things get rough. Responsibility here also becomes defined in a highly external sense, with respect to what we "owe" those around us.

But like all the other things that we talked about in those seven days, Sadhguru offered us another away of looking at the idea of responsiblity. One that is internal and does not have connotations of praise or blame attached to it. Responsibility could, very simply, be the ability to respond to the things that surround us and make up life. In this sense, responsibility preceeds action. It is not about taking a particular course of action or being answerable to someone. It is only the choice to respond as a living, thinking, feeling being to all that and those who surround us. So I am not only responsible for myself, my family, those I love and care about but for everything and everyone who constitute each moment of my life. I am not responsible for them but I chose to respond to them. The moment I choose not to respond, that moment, to that person or that situation, I am dead. This responsiblity has no rules, no rights, no wrongs, no pre dictated and absolute paths of action, save to respond. It gives one the freedom to respond with any kind of action or to respond with inaction if that is what seems suitable.

So, if inaction can be responsibility, what is the point of responsibility really? This is the first question that popped into my head. Wouldn't it be that much easier for people to evade action especially now that they could claim to be doing it out of responsibility?

But the fact is the two things are entirely different. To not act out of lethargy or fear of the consequences is evasion, a nothingness where one seeks to cease to exist, to not matter to existence. To chose not to act out of full knowledge and to responsibility is another form of action. It is a considered, consciously made response. It is a choice of one set of consequences over another.

Taking on this kind of responsibility  makes one's capacity to act limitless. The minute one takes the limits off what one choses to respond to, the possibilities, choices and options are truly mind boggling. It is also the first step towards never feeling helpless. It can bring about a much greater intensity of feeling and at the same time give the emotional flexibility to act out of choice and not prejudiced reaction. It is that felling of control over each moment of one's life and circumstances, of being consciously alive and not just living. It is freedom from the need to blame and from having to take blame; of acting with the knowledge that one has not only the strength but the willingness to face the future, what ever it may be, with joy for whatever it is, it is still life. It is being able to play to win but being able to accept loss too. It is, I think, what the sportsman spirit was meant to mean.

As with acceptance, we were asked to practice this for twenty four hours. The experience of even little things like walking in an over-crowded Mumbai local station changed for me. I saw the anger and irritation dissipate quicker, easier to restore the happiness of feeling the winter sun on my toes (that, y the way, is one of the things that gives me the greatest joy. Feeling the sun on my toes... just my toes.); to stop reacting and start responding.

Am not going to say much more here. This one you have to try to see what it does to you. I can assure you though that freedom from the necessity to blame others is itself worth the trouble this one is going to take to begin with!

The next topic for my series is a bit of a mystery. Even to me. There are three to chose from and I cannot decide. Am going to spend the rest of my weekend thinking them over. And It'll be up sometime soon depending on how quickly I get my packing done.

PS: In writing that last paragraph, I've done the ego inflating thing of assuming that people are reading the entire series. Oh well! Never hurts to make oneself happy about something one is going to do anyway. :D

Friday, 22 January 2010

Acceptance


The question our teacher asked us was:
Can this moment, this exact moment, right now, be anything different from what it IS?

The straight and simple answer to that question is NO. This moment cannot be any different. In that sense it is inevitable. Anything I do will only change the next moment. But this moment, as it exists right now, is inevitable. Accepting this inevitability of present moment is not fatalism (there is, I think, a tendency to jump to the conclusion that to accept something as inevitable is equivalent to subscribing to fatalism) but an act of realism. The present therefore, needs to be accepted, not grudgingly or helplessly but with a full awareness of that which is and with complete knowledge of the nature of this acceptance.

Before I move on to what exactly this acceptance does, there's one more clarification that needs to be made, for we use the words of the English language too loosely and vaguely. To accept is not the same as giving in or becoming helpless or subservient. It does not mean that one becomes a victim of circumstance and resorts to a life of lethargy and laziness. Acceptance here is being used in it simplest and most literal sense - to acknowledge reality, to take complete cognizance of it as a fact.

But why accept? What does it do and how is it related to the idea of freedom that I talked about in the previous post? Acceptance does two things: first, it lets one enjoy the present completely and fully. For it is only the present which exists. The past is dead and the future only a projection or illusion of one's imagination. It brings home the fact that only the present exists; that this present, this moment is unique, has never come before and will never come again in all of existence; that the ray of sunshine that dances on your feet, as you walk on a busy street is your ray of sunshine, that the little cloud you see rumbling on the horizon will not be there in the next moment. Knowing this, I can attest from personal experience, adds a lot of beauty to every little thing that surrounds you. It makes one aware of all that one takes for granted, brings a sense of joy to every step taken, every sight seen, every sound, every smell and every touch. It makes wallowing in the past seem shallow and worrying about the future seem pointless. And that, is a great relief.

The second thing that acceptance does, and this is how it relates to action, is that it ensures that the mind has complete information about any situation that it finds itself in. To acknowledge reality is to acknowledge everything about reality without prejudice and without fear. When in denial or when in a hurry to think ahead without first thinking of all that constitutes the present, the mind only has incomplete information. It only sees that which it wants to see. But when it accepts with full awareness, it sees everything that there is to see in that moment. This brings both clarity and objectivity and gives one the power to shape the next moment in whatever manner one wills. It brings about the mental flexibility to do what must be done in any situation and the competence to do that which is required in the manner that one best can.

The evening that we discussed this notion of acceptance, we were asked to focus on practicing it for at least the next twenty-four hours. To consciously tell ourselves to accept the moment as inevitable, to focus on everything about the present without wishing for this moment to change. I am going to take the liberty of putting down two small instances.

For those of you who know me, you also know that I've been going through a bit of a turbulent time (bit is an understatement!) in the last few months. While the eye of the storm has now blown over, I've been victim of my greatest weakness: mulling things over and over again in my head; of letting them turn around in ever distorting spirals, succumbing to anger, guilt and grief in turn. That night, once I came back home, I sat on my bed and for the next hour focussed only on accepting every part of what had happened just as it had; accepting all that it was in the present (however different from what I had really wanted); accepting that I could not change that which already is but only that which was to come. It may sound unreal right now (it certainly sounds fantastic to my skeptical ears) but the happiness and peace that descended as well as the confidence I felt in facing whatever came the next morning or the next moment was unbelievable. I'll not lay claims to having achieved that state permanently. I'll be honest, I slip into my ruminations of old now and then, but they are rarer and less intense. It is slowly becoming a memory in its entirety as opposed to bits and pieces that I must analyse.

My other experience was more mundane but nevertheless significant to me. On Friday night (a week ago), we were given a list of things in class that we needed to bring on Sunday early morning for the puja. Now I normally have an off on Saturdays. But as Murphy would have it I was working this particular Saturday and as Murphy would again have it, I had to buy pretty much everything on that list. I knew I wouldn't make it back in time on Friday or Saturday to pick up anything. My usual self would have freaked out at this situation and gone into hyperventilation. I would have made a dozen phone calls and fretted to a million people. I'll also admit that sitting there listening to that list, I did freak out mildly and go into a tizzy of sorts wondering how ever was I going to manage it?! But sitting there and telling myself that this was and that I just had to work around it saved me a lot of time and my vocal chords, I might add. It did all turn out right eventually :)

And now I realize that I haven't been very brief with my experiences. I hope I've gotten the point across. Freedom requires mental and emotional flexibility. Acceptance provides the mental flexibility; responsibility the emotional flexibility. That's going to be my next post. However, I think I'll take a break over the weekend. Or maybe I won't. :)

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Freedom

Am going to start where I left off yesterday: at Freedom. The idea of freedom has existed since time immemorial. Freedom from subservience to the forces of nature, freedom from hunger, freedom from slavery... Freedom. The most commonplace understanding of this ideal that drives much of civilization can be stated thus:
The ability to act as I want, unhindered and unencumbered. 


In interpreting this notion of freedom, we make the implicit assumption that constraints, compulsions and hindrances come only from other, external sources and not from ourselves. So what the above notion of freedom translates to is essentially this: the ability to act in a particular, pre-determined manner in spite of the external situation. It is driven by personal likes and dislikes and prejudice. What it also means is that if actions are pre-determined then so are the consequences. Where then is the freedom? Sure, I've done what I wanted to but is that really freedom? If one looks at this notion of freedom from another angle, isn't it nothing but bondage of a different kind?

Here's a simple example to illustrate what I mean (and it's something that's happened to me so I know what it feels like :) ). Let's say I have guests at home for dinner and there's this show on TV that I really really want to watch. In fact I've been waiting for weeks for it to go on air. The TV in my house is in the dining room where everyone is sitting down to dinner at the exact time of the show. Now, my insisting on watching the show would result in either everyone having to keep quiet during dinner or my not being able to hear anything properly. The former will leave the guests disgruntled and the latter will leave me irritated and feeling a little cheated out of watching the show properly. The first situation (that of the guests shutting up) would fit part with the notion of freedom stated above. After all, I did manage to do exactly as I wanted. I even managed to manipulate the external situation to suit me. Yeay!

However, here's what someone not involved in the situation might think of the situation: Isn't wanting to watch TV so badly just another kind of dependence? Maybe I'd actually enjoy myself more if I sat with the guests without grudging the fact that I am not watching TV. I could always catch a re-run later. But this is a possibility that would never occur to me if I were so completely hell bent on watching the show.

While the example I've given is rather trivial, the point is simply this: true freedom lies in having the mental and emotional flexibility to act in a manner best suited to the situation. It lies in taking each factor into account in proportion to its importance to the decision taken. There are situations in which emotions and personal preferences have a large bearing. There they need to be accounted for. In others, where it is immaterial, personal prejudices need to be set aside. For example, at the work place, I might not like someone but I should be willing to work with them if they are the best suited person for the job at hand. At the same time I can choose not to associate with them personally outside the work space.

Krishna, that most pragmatic of gods, explains this to Arjuna in the Gita when Arjuna hesitates to fight the war against his cousins and puts down his weapons. Throughout the Mahabharata, Krishna himself demonstrates this principle. He does what he must to ensure the victory of Dharma; of good over evil. Being utterly involved in the situation he still displays the ability to strategise objectively, detach himself and do what he must.

This notion of freedom however, requires two other things - acceptance of the present moment and responsibility. That's for tomorrow and day after though.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Karma

A quick background to the series of posts that I am going to be writing over the next couple of days:
For the last week I've been participating in the Inner Engineering Program run by the Isha Yoga Foundation. If you find the work that Isha is doing in the areas of environment, rural rejuvenation, prisoner rehabilitation and education worthy of your support, you can vote for them on Chase community  giving here before the 22nd of January 2010.

Apart from the initiation into the Kriya, the program also included a discourse on certain basic aspects of life pertaining to the inner well being of each individual. Over the last 7 days we've discussed "the business of happiness" (as our teacher put it). We've explores a new way of looking at ideas such as responsibility, desire, reaction, action, freedom and karma. In this and the next few posts, I am going to set down my understanding of what was said and some of my experiences in applying the same over the last week.

Karma
Karma was one of the last things we talked about. But I am going to being with Karma. I am beginning here for two reasons: a) Understanding Sadhguru's explanation of Karma and how we create it made everything else fall into place much better. b) Before this program, and even more so after it, I think Karma is one of the most misused words.

Karma is commonly understood in two ways or contexts. First, as action or duty that one must perform as a part of one's place in society and the world. The other denotation of Karma, and the one commonly used when talking of the Hindu way of life refers to the "good" or "bad" deeds credited to your spiritual account. According to commonly understood Hindu philosophy, Karma is what determines the fate of an individual. The depth of Karma and its mystery lies in the fact that the accumulation of Karma is said to transcend lifetimes (if you are a believer in multiple lives that is. If you don't, hold on till I am done with this piece. Karma can still count. The cynic in me insists on this disclaimer.)

Now here's an alternative way of looking at Karma offered to us in these seven days: Karma is conditioning. Conditioning through experience and education. Let me delve a little deeper into what is meant by conditioning here. The human brain processes sensory information through four processes: cognition, recognition, sensation and reaction. For example, when the eye perceives a flower, the brain first cognizes that it is seeing something. Then from previous experience it identifies or recognizes it as a flower. This recognition then produces a sensation of pleasure or pain, pleasantness or unpleasantness based on the stimuli. Lastly, the brain reacts to the sensation and goes on to store the experience of the stimuli in a particular category based on the reaction. It then uses this reaction as a reference point for how to react to the same stimuli at a later date.

A baby is born without any preconceived notions. As it begins to experience the world through its sensory faculties, cognition, recognition and sensation occur automatically in the human brain.These three processes are essential for the survival instinct to function and to protect the physical body. The fourth process, that of reaction, is part voluntary and part involuntary. Reaction begins as an involuntary function as we categorize experiences as "I like this", "I do not like this", "I love this", "I hate this" and so on and so forth. As this habit of reacting becomes more and more innate, we begin to confuse sensation with reaction. Sensation is a physical response that is essential to judge whether a stimuli is conducive to life or not. Reaction on the other hand is our response to that stimuli.

Constant categorization thus, creates in us a pre-conditioned response to situations and stimuli that follow a certain pattern. This building of a library of pre-conditioned or pre-determined responses is the accumulation of Karma. What it prevents one from doing is to see the uniqueness of each situation and it is this inability to see a situation free from the prejudice of a prior experience that creates a determinism in the way we lead our live. Karma.

As we grow older and more aware of our inner capabilities and of the control we have on ourselves, we have the option of not accumulating this Karma. By learning to experience and respond to every situation without the response becoming a rigid rule. Learn from the past but let it not be a determinant of your every future action. Situations may be similar but are never quiet the same. Making love to the same person twice is hardly the same experience is it? The path to Freedom then, lies in being able to see this uniqueness of every situation and every moment and giving oneself the knowledge of the various ways in which one can respond and the flexibility to respond differently each time.

I'll stop here for Freedom in another post in itself.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Meaning

Have been reading a rather lot of some blogs lately. And here's a not so shocking thought that never ceases to surprise me: You can write with one meaning and the reader can derive completely another meaning from what you write and it is still as deep and as meaningful as you meant it to be. Every thing wraps around the things that bother each one of us and words take on meanings that we want them to take, say the things that we cannot find our own words for, and create meanings that will give us comfort and solace.

Monday, 11 January 2010

By the sea shore


Sitting on the shore, watching the relentless waves, I look around at the city I've come to love but not quite think of as home yet. I look at the millions who crowd every little crevice here, at the abandon and anonymity they find in being utterly public. I revel in the silence you can find only in the senseless and intelligible noise of the crowd. The complete solitude of being surrounded by strangers. Moments when honesty is easy, confessions are natural and fears melt with the setting sun.

I enjoy the serenity of utter chaos and confusion for it is not unlike the one in my mind as I ponder where to go from here.
 

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