Archive for the Category »Driving through life «

@ The river is your life! – Alfred’s progress

See (1) to know about Alfred. 

“Imagine a beautiful and wild river.  As you travel down it in your boat, you encounter fearsome rapids and long reaches of calm water.  Rain pelts down on you chilling you to the bone and the sun warms you like a snake on a rock.  At night, the forests along the banks, which were so beautiful by day, can become dark moving shadows, mysterious and unsettling.  The river has so many faces, boring and exciting, beautiful and treacherous.  It goes on and on ever downward, never revealing its final destination.

The river is your life.  The boat, which enables you to navigate the river, is your thoughts .  Now imagine you come upon a tranquil glade by the river-side.  You pull your boat to the river bank and tie it securely to a tree.  You sit in the glade and focus on the present, filling your heart with peace and calmness.  You can hear the river gurgling nearby but now you do not have to think about it.  If you do have a worrisome thought about the next rapids or rain storm, you can put that thought into the boat knowing it is securely tied to the bank and is safe.  You can allow yourself this present moment on the bank in the sun, knowing that life, with all its beauty and challenges will be there when you return.

When you return to the river, it will be with new calmness which will not only help you better navigate the rapids but also appreciate the infinite beauty around you which so often is missed.”

(1) Alfred

All his posts

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* Walking on gold coins, eyes closed

‘Focusing on breathing’ is a technique that is easy to understand and practice.It reduces and prevents stress without demanding time, posture, teacher or money. Many people under stress  admit it may relieve some of their problems. But they are unwilling to try it, even at bed time which is the first step I suggest on this path. I believe it shows that they are not yet ready to come out of their stress and its consequences. This idea is brought out in the following story from Indian mythology.

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Once upon a time, there lived a great devotee of the God named Shiva. He was always chanting the name of God Shiva. But he was always poor, unable to support his large family. He would visit the nearby village every day, asking for donation of food from the housewives and return to his family to feed them.

One day, God Shiva’s wife, being aware of this devotee’s condition, asked Shiva why HE was not helping HIS great devotee. Shiva replied that the devotee’s time to come out of his suffering had not yet come. But Shiva’s wife, felt a lot of compassion for the devotee and insisted that Shiva must do something immediately, to help that poor devotee.

To pacify his wife, that night, Shiva sprayed gold coins all along the road on which the devotee walked every day to the village.

In the morning, Shiva and his wife watched from the heaven, to see what the devotee would do. When the  the devotee was about to step on that road, he got a brilliant idea. He thought “I have been walking on this road every day, for so many years. I know all its turns and pot holes. Let me challenge myself today, by walking on this road with my eyes closed.”. Then he closed his eyes and walked confidently, stepping on the gold coins lying all along the road. At the end of the road, he opened his eyes and congratulated himself for his great achievement!

Shiva told his wife “I told you that he is not yet ready to come out of his suffering!”
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I tell this gold coin story in the introduction part of my seminars. At the end the story I say that every breath that enters and exits our bodies is like a gold coin lying on our path. Noticing a breath is like picking up a gold coin for free, because every time we focus on a breath, we prevent stress and also reduce our stress, for sure, though only a tiny bit (1). In all our non-sleeping moments, we have this ‘golden’ opportunity to prevent and reduce stress (2). Stress being the root cause of many mind and body problems, this practice has immense potential to help us get relieved of many problems (3). Participants appreciate this powerful message.

(1) ‘It is only a little’ – My Article
(2) Stress – Its causes and effects
(3) Helping mind and body

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* Only doing works, not just knowing

I learned this lesson from a funny experience in our kitchen area.

The trash can has been in the laundry room which is adjacent to the kitchen for many years. All our family members must have made thousands of trips to it by now. Sometime back, we had to temporarily relocate the trash can a few feet away , by the side of the kitchen island. This was to create space around the washer for opening it and replace some parts. Getting the parts and replacing them took about 10 days. We had been seeing the trash can in its new location, several times during the day. During this period , I learned the lesson that we can’t do the right thing, just by knowing what is to be done and how. Knowing is simply not enough. You won’t believe it unless you experience something like this. Read on …

After the trash can was moved, every time we had to drop something in it, we quickly walked to its original location, only to find it missing there, recollect its new location and walk to the new location. After this happened a few times on the first day, I cursed myself for forgetting the fact of its new location, even though I saw it in the new location several times while walking in the kitchen area. I thought my brain would guide my feet to the correct location, at least from the second day. But no! Not only the second day, but for several more days, I continued walking to the  original location, cursed myself and walked over to the new location. The first few times, it was a funny experience. Then it was very frustrating and irritating. After a few days, I gave up all my negative thinking. I realized that an action repeated thousands of times, can’t be changed just by knowing the revised action intellectually. The intellect, with all its knowledge about the new location of the trash can, could not make my feet walk to its new location. It was incapable of redirecting my feet.

My stupid action of walking to the wrong location of the trash can corrected itself, after about 7 days. I would still walk towards the old location, half way through suddenly realize that it is at a different location and redirect my feet. I was happy for this huge improvement. Before my habit corrected itself 100%, the washer repair was done and the trash can went back to its good old location.  Not surprisingly, I quickly went back to the long established habit of walking to the old location. I might have walked to the new location only a few times. I was sort of relieved and happy to get into the old groove.

Now I fully sympathize with any one trying to change an old habit. If walking to the trash can can be so difficult to change, it is no wonder people find it so difficult to give up addiction to overeating, smoking, alcohol and angry outbursts and such habits, even after realizing their negative consequences.

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* Speak and act with a clear mind, clean heart and compassion

Sometimes we are faced with challenging situations, unable to decide anything. We feel stuck. We need a strategy to get unstuck and keep going. The following approach may be helpful.

Protect yourself with the three  ‘C’ s

1. Clear mind: Seek clarity on facts. Make a reality check on the situation, people, their actions and intentions. Keep on working in this sphere, till you feel confident that you are not imagining things but seeing truth. Make sure you are not in confusion or doubt (1). First task is to achieve this mental clarity. Don’t speak or take any action even now. Read on for the second ‘C’.

2. Clean heart: Check your heart if you have any negative emotions like revenge, hatred, cheating, fear, guilt etc.  Clear your negative emotions as they will surely trip you on the way. The comes the third ‘C’.

3. Compassionate attitude: Check whether you have a compassionate attitude towards ‘yourself’ and ‘others’ who may be affected by your words and actions. If your words and actions are not arising out of compassion to everyone (everyone includes your own self), hold all speech and action. Take time to develop a compassionate attitude (2).

Now speak and act

Once you have put on these triple protections around you – a clear mind, a clean heart and a compassionate attitude, speak and act with confidence and conviction. You can’t do wrong to yourself or anyone. You won’t have regrets. You can stand before GOD and say boldly “I did the right thing. I am proud of my self.”. If you won’t be afraid of facing GOD with conviction, why should you be afraid of any human being?

(1) Is it a snake or a rope?
(2) Read My articles on ‘Relationships’

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* My shopping cart pulls to the side

I go to the nearby Walmart store often for fresh milk and vegetables. As soon as I enter, I pull out a cart from the train of stacked carts and go into the aisles, to pick up the stuff. Occasionally, after pushing the cart for a few feet, I realize that wheels are not in alignment, pulling it slightly to left or right. I am not happy with its condition. But having walked a few feet ahead, I am reluctant to walk back to the entrance to replace the defective cart by a good one. So I go ahead and continue the shopping.

If I remain passive and allow the cart to move as it tends to, my cart will soon hit another shopper or the shelving. I silently curse the defective cart and the people who should have have taken such carts out of circulation. To prevent any mishap, I periodically adjust it to go straight ahead. With a number of grumbling adjustments, I complete my shopping and walk out of the store, without any mishap.

One day it occurred to me that my mind sometimes behaves like that defective cart. I am aware of my mental bias pushing me to obviously unwarranted judgments of people. If I go by its dictates, I will definitely regret my judgments and consequent actions. Taking a clue from my experience with the defective carts, whenever I am aware, I ignore the wrong tendency of my mind and make a deliberate effort to judge and act correctly. Due to such repeated efforts, self correction of my mind has become natural and spontaneous, with less regrets.

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Parent page: ‘My articles’

Next page: Spiritual articles

* Focus on the Message or the Messenger?

We see this situation often. Consider these scenarios.

  • A sufi teacher (1)  was pointing his crooked index finger, bent due to arthritis, at the moon. He was asking his student to look at the beautiful full moon in the sky. The student was focusing on the crooked index finger. He could not see the moon as he could not detach his attention from the finger. The communication between them was a total failure. Who is responsible? Who is the loser?
  • I receive a partially damaged and dirty envelope from the tax department. I feel like throwing it in the trash bin. But then….What if it is a notice of an audit of my tax return? Or it has a check for the tax refund? Should I ignore the dirty condition of the envelope and open it, pull out the letter and then toss the envelope in the trash bin?
  • I parked my car crossing the dividing line between the two parking spots, close to the entrance of a famous temple and went inside with my family. The adjacent parking space was wasted, as it was risky for any one to park in that narrow space. That being a week end, there were many visitors and the parking was very tight.  When I returned after the worship, I found a paper under the wiper of the wind shield with the pungent message “Stupid! Don’t you know how to park?” I felt very bad. Should I curse the hot blooded person, may be a youngster, for his crude message? Should I regret my negligent parking, depriving another devotee of a convenient parking space? Should I etch this incident in my mind and not repeat the parking negligence any time in future? Should I thank the youngster for teaching me an important lesson that I definitely needed, though in a crude manner? Could I have realized my inappropriate action affecting other people on my own, if I did not get that crude message,from whoever it may be?

(1) Sufism is defined by its adherents as the inner, mystical dimension of Islam. A practitioner of this tradition is generally known as a Sufī.

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Parent page: Articles on ‘Relationships’

* Thoughts are like balloons without air

We constantly get thoughts in the mind – mostly negative ones and rarely positive ones. Most of them are random thoughts and vastly vary in content and rarely relevant to the task on hand. Often we get carried away by the content and message of such a thought without questioning its validity. We don’t raise the question “Is there any truth in this thought? Do I believe it?”

A thought has no impact on our mind or behavior unless we believe it.

I can visualize thoughts entering the mind like limp balloons landing on my desk. I don’t know where they are coming from. I don’t have to blow air into every balloon that lands on my desk. I can take a look at each balloon and decide which one I like to keep. Then I can spend my energy blowing air into the chosen balloon.

Similarly, we can decide which thought arriving in our mind has significance to us at this moment, examine its validity and decide whether to believe in it and act on it. Believing in a thought is like blowing air into a limp balloon, giving it an attractive look and utility. Not believing in a thought is like leaving it limp, lifeless and insignificant, as good as dropping it in the trash can.

Related article: Is it a snake or rope? on the importance of correct perception, in saving one’s life and in not missing a potential opportunity.

Parent page: Thoughts are like………

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* A lifeless plant gets a grand new life

There were a row of  plants about 8 feet high, by the side of the road leading to my office in the big paperboard mill I worked.  The purpose of these plants was to show off their dense green leaves and plenty of the yellow flowers, giving relief to the eyes from the drab concrete buildings and roads.

The plants looked absolutely drab most of the year with woody stems and hardly any fresh leaves. In the flowering season, beautiful yellow flowers would be seen but as soon as that short season was over, the plants were an eye sore rather than a relief. This was in spite of regularly watering them. Watching them many times a day, on my way to and from my office room was a pain for me.

As an experiment, I told my people in the civil maintenance department who maintained these plants, to prune only one of these plants drastically, leaving just a foot of the trunk from the ground. This was done promptly. I was worried whether I destroyed the plant and created a bigger eye sore. I watched them eagerly every day, for the results of the experiment.

After about 2 weeks, small green shoots were coming out of the trunk. I was relieved that at least the plant was not dead. Every day the number of vigorously growing shoots increased dramatically. In a few weeks there were hundreds of fast growing shoots. In about 3 months, hundreds of shoots with fresh green tender leaves had grown 3 feet high. This born-again plant was a feast for the eyes.

We repeated the process with all the other plants with similar happy results. This dramatic and unexpected transformation of an otherwise totally lifeless plants set me thinking …

Those plants were looking lifeless and as good as dead. I was in half mind to uproot them and plant new ones in their place. They looked as though they had no energy to grow new branches and leaves. But then what happened after the drastic pruning?

A giant reservoir of energy was unleashed when the plant was pruned drastically. That energy was so huge and readily available that it quickly initiated hundreds of new shoots and could sustain their vigorous growth to several feet. The plant did not need any extra inputs for it’s rebirth – no extra water, fertilizer, insecticide or attention. It had all it’s requirements in abundance.

Could this phenomena be true for individuals, teams or whole organizations?  Can the drastic stoppage of the routine, ritualistic, dull and meaningless daily routines unleash the giant dormant powers in them? Could it be that their lifeless performance is due to blocking of their powerful energies by life killing doubts, fears and meaningless activities? Can getting rid of these energy blocks unleash the hidden energies? Would that give birth to lively new thoughts, plans and activities, like those seen in the born-again plants? This great transformation may emerge without any additional rewards. The transformation itself would be a fantastic reward.

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Parent page: Articles on ‘Improving self and achieving goals’

* It happened suddenly!

As a maintenance engineer in a continuous running plant, I had to face sudden stoppages of continuous running machines due to mechanical defects. I had to answer the management for the consequent losses to the company. The persons responsible for avoiding the unplanned stoppages of the machines would tell me that the machine was running fine yesterday and even a little while back and it failed suddenly. They claimed they could not have detected and prevented the failure. Of course this is not true for mechanical parts. But how to drive this point home without arguments? I used to practically demonstrate what might have been happening this way.

I pick up a paper weight and place it in the middle of a small table. The table is clear of any objects form the paper weight to the clear edge. I move the paper weight intermittently in steps of a few inches. After the first move I stop, look at them and say “Nothing happened!”. Again I move it a little and say “Nothing happened”. Again I move an inch and say “Yes, nothing is happening”. I keep on moving the paper weight inch by inch till it falls on the hard floor with a thud. Then I shout and say “The paper weight has fallen suddenly. It was OK a few seconds back!”.

People watching this demo invariably smile and admit that something adverse or unusual was happening gradually before the failure that they were not observing carefully. Or they were seeing some unusual symptoms but felt they were harmless, not worth any corrective action. The gradual deterioration from the healthy condition has to lead to total failure some day, there can be no escape.

This could apply to many aspects of life – sudden burst of reactions of people, sudden crisis of some kind etc. We ignore the preceding symptoms and underestimate their significance. These accumulate over a period of time and one day result in a (sudden?) failure of some kind.

If we keenly observe what is happening around us in things and people and know what is a normal and healthy situation and what is a significant deviation, we can predict where this gradual negative change will ultimately lead to and what could be it’s consequences.

If we take corrective actions in the early stages when we see the adverse movements taking place, the adverse event can be aborted. The so called sudden developments can only happen when we close our eyes and minds to what is  happening gradually or choose to underestimate or ignore their significance.

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* I rebuilt my broken spirit

This is a testimonial from Eva (not her real name) who attended 8 of my classes over 5 months (6). It illustrates many lessons in getting out of the grip of a verbal or emotional abuser, not a physical abuser.

  • It is a dramatic model on how a person can break the spell of the abuser  and lead a stress free life. Daily contact with that person may be unavoidable. The abuser may be abusing verbally or emotionally.  The abuser may be a boss, spouse, parent, friend or any other.
  • It proves the saying  “You can’t change others. You can only change your response to their behavior.” and the related one “When I change myself, the World changes.”
  • It proves the spiritual saying “When the student is ready the teacher appears”
  • And surprise! The abuser may turn around!

See more of my comments at the end.

The report
“I suppose it was the end of May 2011 because the 10 foot high snow banks at the end of the parking lot had finally melted. I think it was a Monday or a Tuesday. Back then, I didn’t really focus on real- time. I simply prayed to get through each day. Each and every new morning presented itself with tremendous anxiety, demanding self-preparedness to battle with my verbally and emotionally abusive boss. I had been dealing with his relentlessly abusive behavior over the last two years. I was daily confronted with humiliation, degrading, argumentative, embarrassing control tactics, accusations, and lies. Me responding with anxiety, fear, tears, withdrawal, disgust and frustration. I was losing sleep, and it felt like I was constantly spinning.

I was treated by my physician for severe panic attacks and sleeplessness. My dermatologist was treating me for the red blotches, itching and welts on my face. Rock bottom came when a coworker made an unkind comment to me, back on that Monday or Tuesday. It broke my spirit to the core. I went out of the office, to the end of the long unused hallway, sat on the floor with my arms wrapped around my knees. I soaked from my tears. What was happening to me? How do I stop this monster of a boss from making me feel like this?

I figured I had two choices – fight or flight. I pulled myself together and went back to the office. I prayed to the angels to please give me some kind of a sign.

A few days before, I planned to attend the seminar by C S (Suryanarayana Chennapragada) on ‘Focusing on breathing’  at the local library, but I couldn’t make it. On coming to know about my interest from my coworker, CS offered the classes at his office. I saw CS that day.

He patiently let me unload everything that was making my life miserable. He taught me the different breathing methods to control stress and help with relaxation (5). He made me practice the techniques briefly sitting in his office.

I experienced a sense of calmness almost immediately. I could feel my tense shoulders drop. In his weekly classes he shared with me his own life experiences and some healing thoughts (1). I began to understand things in a whole different way. I knew I was 100 feet under water but after a few sessions with CS, I knew I had crawled up by 10 feet, inch by inch.

I had a long way to go but I knew I was on the right path. I practiced the techniques every day and several times a day when things got bad. I could thus create my own calmness to some degree. I created sanity in my work space by including things I love and a few ‘props’ from C S, to insulate me from further emotional trauma (2).

After several months and many visits later. I can honestly say that I am ‘riding the waves’ instead of drowning underneath them (3). I have learned so much from the relaxation techniques and guidance from C S,  that now I recognize the bad behavior before it comes to me. I learned how to respond to it in appropriate ways, to throw “IT” (the ‘bug’, meaning the abusive behavior) back and put the fire out before it burns me (4).

I had a revelation not too long ago inspired by the experiences C S shared with me. It became clear to me, that I was causing my own frustration because I was expecting my boss to change into someone he could never be. I realized that I could only change myself. I had to only keep my mind clear without confusion and my heart clean without any negative intention or attitude. I am now stronger, more confident and more aware of my own being. I am a better person now. When confronted with difficulties and bad behavior at work, I know I am going to get even better. I have eliminated all expectations about him! I feel can do this! I keep a small sign on my desk with a chant that CS introduced to me. It reminds me frequently that my boss’s abusive behavior is not because something is wrong with me. The sign has the letters “koerauoyavE”. It does not make sense to any other person. I am the only one who knows that reading it backwards, it gives me the healing message “Eva you are OK” (I am OK, it is my boss who is suffering from the ‘blame bug’).”

The report ends happily here!

Some unexpected developments
My boss realized that I was not cowering anymore when he behaved intimidatingly. On the other hand, he saw me replying to his accusations calmly, boldly and factually, looking into his eyes, all the time. He then changed his behavior dramatically. He started behaving like an immature child and making jokes, trying to make up with me! Unbelievable!” “A few days back, at the end of the day, I asked him “Doc! are we closing the office?”. He replied “You tell me.” I said “You are the boss. You are the one to decide.” He said “No. You are the boss!”. Imagine this one coming from the micromanaging and intimidating boss who used to say in all petty matters of the office “I am the boss. You have to follow whatever I say.” What a transformation!”

***

My comments

Eva is an unique personality, unlike any others with whom I worked so far. In her past career she always had kind and caring bosses. This abusive boss was a great shock to her.

She instantly grasped the concepts and techniques I shared with her, internalized them and used them right away, to manage the situation on hand. She benefited remarkably from the stories and articles that I shared with her in the classes.

After a few weeks of practicing the breathing and the new thought processes, she discarded her previous practice of wearing the green smock to the office, like a medial staff. She wore the normal office dress like a receptionist, with pride. This small step boosted her morale, one notch.

(1) She quickly absorbed the messages of these stories/articles and ideas and practiced them in real life.

  • “He insulted me” on how we can refuse to receive the insult being thrown at us or internalize it.
  • “The walker who laughed at A, B and C” on how we think we have some problem, instead of the abusive person.
  • “The blamer is hit with the blame bug” due to which he can’t help displaying the symptoms of blaming disease.
  • “My brother Ramu dies at the age of 10” describing how my unrealistic expectation was the cause for my suffering.
  • “We do not see the first parts of people’s lives” making  judgments of other people, based on their current behavior, without knowing the experiences they were subjected to till that point of time.
  • “To speak or not, to act or not” illustrating that as long I have a clear mind without confusion and a clean heart without negative emotions, I can speak and act appropriately without being afraid of any one, including GOD.
  • Unrealistic expectations sap our motivation and abort our attempts at making small forward moving changes in our routine. The president of an African country was asked by a journalist to describe the achievements of his government. He said ”My dear friend, I am not in the happy position of seeing what heights I have reached. I only see from what depths I am coming up!”. The personal change process is such that we may not experience any waves of happiness even after many many years of practice. The few daring people that attempt this process have to sustain their efforts and draw deep inspiration from the tiny reductions in their daily suffering.

(2) I helped Eva in creating reassuring and calming props, right in front of her, while sitting in her chair, in spite of any objections by her boss. This was also to break the spell of controlling and being controlled, under which both her boss and she lived, for more than two years. She also had to demonstrate her right to arrange her undisputed physical zone as she liked, without being challenged by her boss.

  • I described the story “He insulted me” using my pen for practical demonstration and at the end, gave her the same pen to take with her and place it right in front of her on the desk. This pen would remind her of the message of this story during the abusive interactions of the day, thus protecting her from distress.
  • I used a piece of crumpled paper to represent the bug in the story “The blamer is hit with the blame bug” and asked her to keep it on her desk, to remind her that her boss could not help behaving abusively because he was having the blame bug in his head.
  • I made a card in the shape of an inverted V (like a name sign used in meetings) and wrote “koerauoyawE” on it with a colored sketch pen. This was the message “Eva you are ok” written backwards as one word, so that only she could decipher the hidden message. Whenever her boss made a statement putting her down, she looked at this card lying on her desk, reminding her she was OK and it was her boss who had the bug (problem). Looking at this message helped her shake off the negative messages about her that her boss was trying to inject into her mind. Her coworkers saw the card and asked what was the meaning of that word. She quietly smiled in reply.
  • I asked her if she had any plants or flowers on her desk or around her, to look at and care for, as her own. She said her boss did not like any such things. I said this is a very good chance to assert her right by bringing some flowers from her garden or buy a small plant in a pot and keep it on her desk. She followed these suggestions.
  • She heard western classical music being played in our office when she came to the classes. She remarked that it was very calming whereas the music channel in her office radio blared hard drum sounds and disturbed her as well as the patients sitting in the waiting room. I asked her to change the station to classical music. She was not sure he would allow it but she made the change anyway without his noticing it, to her great relief. Listening to this soothing music all the time also contributed to reducing her stress.

(3) A spiritual teacher said that the meditative techniques like ‘Focusing on breathing’ do not eliminate the problems which are a part of life. But they help us manage them without getting distressed. He said  “You can’t avoid the big waves coming at you. But you can use the meditative techniques as a surf board and ride over the waves”.

(4) Her boss was throwing the blame (bug) at her and she now learned how to throw it back at him, instead of getting infected by that bug. She protected herself from being infected by the blaming disease that her boss was suffering from.

(5) Six different modes of ‘Focusing on breathing’

(6) Seminars and classes 

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