Lessons from meditation: An ant’s bite taught me a lot about how to face tough life situations

A few years ago I went for Vipassana meditation. The first course of Vipassana meditation camp involves staying at the centre for 10 days in complete silence. You have to give up your phone and all sorts of expression and communication with the outer world. So you cannot read or write as well. It is also recommended to not engage in any sort of worship for these 10 days. The idea is that through meditation you connect with your inner world. In addition, you get only 2 meals a day – breakfast and lunch along with a snack. This helps slow down your metabolism as well as help you sit for 10 hours a day as you aren’t doing anything else. The whole idea of being cut off with the world for 10 days was a bit daunting but also created a nervous excitement about how will I cope with such strict rules.

Surprisingly, I completed the entire course rather effortlessly. Yes, there were instances when I dozed off during early morning meditation or felt a little disoriented at times with too much meditation. Overall, it went rather smoothly. I did not experience major hunger pangs or cravings for communication.

There is one experience that has stayed with me and has benefitted me immensely.

After 3 days of concentrating on our breath, we were asked to sit for 45 minutes of meditation with a strong determination of not moving at all. I thought that this would be easy so I made the determination and sat down for meditation. We were in a big hall with hundreds of people. As soon as I started my meditation, a big ant crept up on my neck and stung me just below my clavicle. I was immediately distracted from my meditation, my entire attention was on the ant and the burning sensations in my neck and upper chest area. My immediate reaction was to remove the ant, but that would have meant moving. I didn’t want to move so I decided to brace the pain and the sensations while continuing with my meditation.

Surprisingly, after a few minutes of discomfort the sensations died down. I felt a numbness in that area. So while my mind was entangled in that, I had at least managed to not move or distract my body.

Somehow this little incident has stayed with me. Every time, I am faced with a crisis in life I am reminded of the ant and its bite. Until now, I haven’t really made much of this incident. But recently, it just dawned on me that the ant appeared in my meditation to teach me a big lesson about how to practice Vipassana in daily life as we go through events. Just like the ant’s bite, life too can sting but if we choose not to react in an automated fashion but with intelligence we can turn that crisis into an opportunity.

The practice of Vipassana tries to teach that no matter the events of life – good or bad – we must deal with them with equanimity. The situations in life will not always favour us but what matters is how we respond to the situations. It is our own reaction to the situations that shape our experience and feeling of it.

Now whenever I am faced with a crisis situation, I try to pause before reaction. I try to shape my reaction in a manner so that I can get a positive outcome of a situation. I am not always successful but I try. It gives me a sense of peace when I try to respond in a positive manner to a situation, rather than let anger or negativity lead my life. A little bit of kindness and love go a long way in shaping our life.

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Lessons from the yoga mat: Stop dwelling in duality and develop focus

A few days ago as I was checking my Facebook feed, I came across a video interview of BKS Iyengar, in which he talks about how yoga helped him deal with “duality”. The thought struck me. It reminded me of my own tryst to get to my mat every day.

Even though I enjoy my practice, it is not easy to get to the mat. It is not easy to change the habit. Every morning I find myself explaining to my body the benefits of yoga so that I can get to my mat. There are days, I have to literally drag my body on to the mat. At times, I have to tell myself that if I get my practice done, I will have better focus at work. Some days, I am not successful at all and tend to give in to my body.

Although it takes a while, once my body wakes up and starts experiencing the benefits of being on the mat, it thanks my mind. Yet, the debate goes on every morning. This simple exercise of getting to my mat, teaches me a simple lesson that once we stop dwelling on duality and bring our minds to a clear focus, we can enjoy and accomplish many things.

“Duality in our mind” is the root cause of procrastination and unhappiness. Sometimes, we may finish a task but we don’t enjoy it. While we continue to do the work physically, our mind tends to wander elsewhere. This is where yoga helps, when I am on my mat, doing asanas or meditation I learn to focus on my thoughts and body movements. Those brief moments in which my mind becomes focused on the present moment, I experience an inner joy. In those moments, I am just flowing with my true nature.

This is how yoga and meditation change your life. While the physical benefits are tangible and can be easily assessed, it is the mental benefits that bring about change in the long run.

Minimalism is not giving up, but adding value

Often minimalism is confused with not consuming at all. People think minimalism means living a boring life without enjoyment. It’s viewed as an antithesis of what a consumerist society stands for, that is giving up materialistic pleasures and pursuits. While that may be true for some minimalists, it is not necessarily true for all.

Minimalism to me means giving up possessions that don’t add any value to our lives. Filling our lives and places with mindless consumption attests to a particular habit of acquiring things because we can. It also reflects an emptiness within when we are no longer clear about what we really want to do with our lives so we focus on acquisition of stuff because that is easy. This habit feeds a particular pattern of making money, acquiring stuff and then looking for a place or an occasion to show off our new stuff. Over time, this becomes our life mission.

Minimalism then is a way to become aware of this mindless materialistic pursuit so that we can restructure our life and priorities. If through this process we realize that all we want to do is acquire stuff so be it, but often we discover that there are certain needs and goals in life that are being unmet because of mindless consumption. Clearing out stuff allows us to pause and reflect on what our true desires and callings are. And once we have arrived at a balance between our inner and outer selves, we can reset the button to live a meaningful and mindful life. Except that it is easier said than done.

It is not easy to be a minimalist, to give up your possessions and most importantly, not to acquire new ones to fill the space that has emptied out. Like any new habit that takes time to form, minimalism too takes a while getting used to. It can be a difficult process but it is worth it.

At least that’s what I am discovering. Having too many options in my closet meant it took me an awful lot of time to get ready and I would inevitably end up late everywhere. Second, it meant that I was wearing the same stuff most of the times, as I would get too overwhelmed when going through my closet and often won’t remember the rarely used stuff. It was too much of a load on my memory. Now with fewer options, I find it easier to dress up and am able to actually dress up.

I would love to know, what are your apprehensions about minimalism or struggles with minimalism?