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.


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.

Books that have inspired my minimalistic journey

In last few years, I have begun to enjoy reading books about personal change and transformation. I pick up these books when I want to do some light reading. I find it very inspiring to read about stories of personal change and transformation. Reading such stories fill me with a certain feeling of hope and positivity.

At another level, reading these books make me feel like I am talking to a friend. Thus, making the act of living by myself in a crowded city less lonely. I do enjoy my solitude but at times I crave for good conversations with strong people who have seen adversity or have gone through a personal setback and dealt with it in a positive manner with strength and commitment.

I started reading memoirs after I read Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found by Cheryl Strayed. In my old blog, I had written a post about this book. If I find the original post I will link it here. This is the one of the first books that inspired me to look at life differently.

While I have read many such books, below is the list of books written by women about their journeys of change and personal transformation. These stories have resonated me at some or the other level and have inspired my minimalistic journey.

1. Yoga for Life: A Journey to Inner Peace and Freedom by Colleen Saidman Yee – This book describes the personal struggles of Colleen Saidman, who battled drug addiction and became a super model but went through bad relationships and finally found peace in yoga. The honesty with which this book is written touched me and it really inspired me to begin my yoga journey earnestly. Although I read it a couple of years ago, the book still resonates with me about how important it is to take breaks in life and reflect on your life choices.

2. Lessons from Madame Chic: 20 Stylish Secrets I Learned While Living in Paris: I picked up this book as I wanted to do some light reading and learn about life in Paris. However, some of the lessons in this book about how Parisian women consume food and clothes hit right at home. For years, I have been trying to overhaul my relationship with food and clothes. In very simple terms, through the life of women in Paris the author Jennifer L. Scott describes how easy it is to streamline your food and clothing habits. This book really helped me change my eating habits. It helped me become more mindful of what I eat.
3.  The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying: The simple, effective way to banish clutter forever by Marie Kondo: Reading this book really helped me understand my relationship to stuff and it motivated me to declutter my wardrobe. Ever since, I have removed a lot of unused stuff from my life and it has been very liberating. This book also put me on the path to minimalism. Decluttering helped me with one obvious problem I have always struggled with. I have always found myself rushing, reaching just on time or sometimes even late. Decluttering helped me keep my mind free, make my routines simpler so much so that I found myself reaching everywhere earlier.
4. You Can Buy Happiness (and it’s Cheap): How One Woman Radically Simplified Her Life and How You Can Too by Tammy Strobel: This book really helped me understand that often consumption becomes our main motivation to live, as a result we drown ourselves with stuff becoming overwhelmed. On the other hand, a life lived with simplicity and authenticity helps us retain our inner peace on a daily basis. How having less can add more meaning to life?
5. Packing Light: Thoughts on Living Life with Less Baggage by Allison Fallon: This book also talks about following our inner quest. However, to do that we need to peel the layers and look within ourselves about what it is that our journey is about. The whole concept of removing the extra stuff so that we can focus really made sense to me.
In the comments below, do let me know what you think of these books, if you have read them and if you have other suggestions!