Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Fine art of Doing Nothing

It was almost 2 years from my last vacation, I was really looking forward to getting away this time around. A lot was done in the last 2 years, a lot was achieved and a LOT was still undone (there always will remain an undone part right to the end :-)). Normally our vacations have been about performing some activities, visiting different spots, meeting different people, etc.

This time around we planned our vacation such that we would DO NOTHING except rest. We decided to go to Goa (an old favorite), stay at our familiar resort and simply spend the whole day alternating between the Sun, Water and Shade. An activity which we call "bumming on the beach" :-). After the hectic very active life that we live day to day, we thought this would be an ideal method to recharge the drained out batteries.

However we found that we were such creatures of habit, that it was actually quite challenging to simply lie around on the beach and do nothing.

The first day was really tough with a high amount of restlessness creeping in and a deep desire to DO SOMETHING. While we may have been physically relaxed, mentally we couldn't adjust to this inactivity.

The second day we started the day with a walk, carried a book each to read and again tried to just BE on the beach. Despite adding some activities, it was still quite tough. I observed that while we were trying to just BE physically, the mind was all over the place. While we were supposedly resting, we were still restless.

By the third and fourth day, the part about doing nothing started to grow on us. And we actually started to be able to just relax without doing anything at all. The environment was very also very supportive viz. Ocean, other lazy people on the beach essentially doing nothing, the sun, no interruptions, chilled beer on demand :-) etc.

I realised that for people like us (I call them the DOERS), our mind is at rest when we are doing something. I feel more relaxed when I am active and engaged. The activity could be writing a document, taking a walk, folding clothes, dusting the house, cooking, or whatever. It took us 3-4 days of practicing DOING NOTHING to get used to the idea of Rest.

Most of our lives are lived mechanically. While we are doing, our mind is continually churning thoughts. We are in essence multi-tasking. Driving the car and thinking about work, cooking and thinking about the evening shopping appointment, talking to a customer and thinking about home, etc.

To give you an example, reflect on the time when you are driving. Are you really present in the car? Are you aware of every inch of the road you move on? Are you aware every time you manipulate the car's controls. Ever reached your home and realized that there is a gap in the memory of the part when you left your office and when you reached your home. You were possibly preoccupied with the problems of work and were missing in the drive. Your drove home in autopilot.

This continuous mental activity causes immense amount of stress, anxiety and body ailments.

Mind you, I am not talking about Sleep as a form of rest, which is a natural cyclic method to rejuvenate the body. Even during sleep, you may not really be resting. (Ever had dreams/nightmares; Ever woke up feeling very sluggish and grouchy; Ever kept tossing and turning on your bed; Ever found it difficult to find sleep).

Lying down, sitting down, reclining are simply methods to relax the physical body. More often then not, it does precious little to calm the mind. In fact, the fact that you are at rest, gives the mind excess energy to be more of a monkey that it already is.

Rest as we have come to understand is the mental relaxation, the slowing down of the incessant thought stream, possibly being thoughtless for a while, being aware. This is the practice of MEDITATION. This is the practice of DOING things meditatively. This is the practice of being fully PRESENT in every action.

I have come to realise that for most people to become restful, they need to practice the activity of being inactive (Something we don't learn in shool, college or at home (unless you are lucky). )

To rest, I recommend the following
  1. PRACTICE taking frequent breaks from what you are doing and switch to another activity (Active Rest). This could be another aspect of your work, a short walk, or simply stare into the distance (your eyes will thank you for it)
  2. PRACTICE finding 2-3 slots of time a day, when you are sitting and simply observing your thoughts and not attending to them (Meditation). Over time and with regular practice, you will observe that the continuous stream of thoughts will be broken and will thin out.
  3. In your every day activities, PRACTICE slowing down and being fully present only in that activity (Being mindful)

To master the Fine Art of Doing Nothing, you have to Practice Doing Nothing.
Is this Paradoxical? Not in my opinion :-)

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The character Judgement of Lance Armstrong

Since I am a fan and close follower of Lance Armstrong, in a recent discussion with friends, I encountered the following "questions/allegations" (seeking my views on the topic)
- Lance Armstrong is a liar
- He cheated by taking performance enhancing drugs
- Its against the true essence of sport, which actually builds character
- Due to his actions, a lot of innocent people didn't make their grade
- So if the majority of the cyclists take EPOs, he is a great cyclist since he beat them all, but that doesn't absolve him of lying, cheating, etc
...and so on

My first reaction was to defend my hero, someone whom I have always looked upto, read both his books, who inspired me to get going on a bike. But I soon realized the futility of the whole argument.

Person A was commenting on the life of Person B and Person C was stepping in to defend Person B. Neither A, B nor C are connected in any way.

I would say that all of us are on are individual journeys through life with the sole objective of realizing and living our potential and growing within to become better and helpful human beings. This journey normally lasts multiple life times until such time as "we get it"
Our gurus have tought us that this "getting it" is all about unlearning all that we have picked up along the way.

We don't really build character, we uncover it by our Sadhana and our responses to life experiences.

I believe that no one human can comment on the journey of another. It would be a mere second hand judgement.

I also believe that while we unlearn our conditioning, we may not be perfect in the moralistic (wordly/society) sense of the word. We all would probably exhibit some character flaw or other. Most of us have some or the other skeletons in the cupboard. However standing in judgement of these flaws as we see in others, is a useless exercise and at best has gossip value and is also an indication of having those flows ourselves. Instead it would be good to reflect on all these experiences (even of observing others and reading about others) and seeing how we can improve our journey towards uncovering our beautiful character.

The observation is external but the application is internal
Moralhood is a fine state to visit once in a while, but we shouldnt get it home - Richard Bach

In essense, we need to observe and learn from the journey of others but work and focus on our own journey.

Am I a MORE peaceful, MORE loving, MORE joyful person today.

Side Note: As for Lance Armstrong, just like I acknowledged his massive strength in fighting cancer, enduring gruelling training rides (yes despite EPO, one needs to bust ones ass on the saddle to ride), dealing with turbulent personal issues, starting a cancer foundation,etc,  I also acknowledge his weakness of falling prey to desires, lies, cheating, etc.

I choose to focus on the former and simply be aware of the latter.

Why is a WILL called a will

I think a will cannot be different from what you are living. Essentially it is just that you trust a few people to carry out what you would have done if you were living. Hence if you plan to give away all your money to charity once you are dead, you may want to do the same while you are alive.

I believe a will is about ensuring that all your "material" possessions are properly distributed as per your wishes to the relevant people. I also believe that a will is not about carrying on your legacy. If you want your lifes work to continue after your death, you would want to establish an organisation (system) which will continue to function as per your established "vision" even after you are gone.

It may not be a great idea to document your ideas in a will, while expecting that someone will work on them while you are gone. Its rare. People have their own "wills" to live by.

You may document your vision and share it with people. But at the risk of repeating, you may want to establish a system which will execute on these ideas even while you are away. E.g. a business, a trust, an NGO, a political party, etc (if you really care about these ideas to persist)