Tuesday, March 1, 2016

MEDITATION IN THE HILLS-- by raghav shunglu


Being alone has the greatest joys that life has to offer. We feel our most essential elements and understand the self only when we spend time with ourselves and train the mind to agree. Sometimes all one needs is to close their eyes and-- to let a certain calmness and stillness descend starting with the head, ears down to the tip of the toe.

When I think of the cold Serene landscape of a hill, the gentle rumble of the river right behind my green garden, I sit there quiet and still on this one o' blessed morning-- sunny and bright sun that set me up with fire and blessed my chilly bones with fire.

I don't know how to define a meditative state, but I have learnt over the years, to channelise my energy and dissolve my thoughts by focusing on the breath, the only key to that eternal truth. The only bodily process that connects us from the time we are born to the time we pass on, above and beyond.

To meditate, is to focus on the breadth and experience that stillness of the mind, body and soul. It starts with the body and sets with the temple of dusk.Then when the morning light hits my wooden doors, it awakens me from the dangerous dungeons of darkness and fills my day with a blissful shine.

Meditation in the hills is Serene. The call of the birds, perched atop a hill dotted with pines and a variety of twigs and wood. To cross over to the inner realms is made easy by the perfect gateway to escape-- the vibrations and energy of a magical mystical mountain.

In the ancient land of mountains, abode of gods and goddesses, sheltered and preserved is a way of life. To really feel and internalize this is to train the ear to hear natures call. It is something like the gentle whisper of trees to one another or the far heard cries of villagers who sound like a pack of soulful youth, calm and at ease with their sensibilities and the environment around them. It is that state of perfect harmony that is present in nature, Shakti that one can feel because of the eternal element in certain places which one can feel, but not often explain.

I was once in Himachal in a part of Kullu where there was a hot spring and glaciers as it was a watershed region. I woke up in the morning and went to take a 'dupki', following which I sat on the soft green slopes outside the 'kund'. I saw the mountain tops and the peaks, scattered here and there and engulfed in ice along different rock formations. I closed my eyes and sat there. Still. Quiet. Appreciating the cold breeze lapping against my face and the sound of someone tapping my shoulder woke me up. I was surprised to see my friends had come to look for me after 10. I realised that 4 hours had gone by and they had been looking for me for quite some time.
We then walked into the woods where we befriended a woodcutter who took us for a little tour of the jungle, only to find a peaceful spot where we lit a fire and enjoyed the company of those around us. 

Such is the power of the meditative state. To be happy in every bit of life. To enjoy every moment and smile, and yet being aware that happiness and joy will come and go. But all that remains is the mountains, grand and majestic and unmoved by the forces of man. To live in the universal respect of nature, is what man needs to learn and practice. For a day will come...

P.S.- Raghav is an avid traveller, a storyteller and yogi who picks his bags up and dissapears more often than not. He vociferously advocates sustainability and can meditate for hours on end during his travels. Political Science from Hindu College and an MBA are not the only feathers in his cap many will agree, as he quickly rustles up food to die for!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Mindfulness: Isolation of ‘The Now’

Often we may find ourselves in situations where we are thinking about something which is not happening in the present moment but rather something that we are expecting or anticipating. To put it simply, how often have you found yourself in a situation where you are having lunch and thinking about what to cook for dinner? Or thinking about what a wonderful weekend it was on a Monday morning?
Now, let me paint you a picture. What if you choose to not think about dinner and just savour the lunch on your plate right now. Or if you choose to not de-motivate yourself about how you are hating Monday morning by simply not contrasting it against the wonderful weekend? What if you choose to live in the present? The minute you choose to live in the present, you have practiced what is called mindfulness.
Mindfulness, as described by the dictionary is a state of active, open attention on the present. The thought of thinking about the NOW or the present doesn’t seem complex or even difficult, yet the practice of mindfulness in today’s day and age is dropping exponentially. Schools are teaching children to be goal driven; and many learning organizations in the world are teaching their clients to be target oriented and focus on the return on investment. However in the process of doing so, we are missing a very important element and that is the NOW. Having said that, there is nothing wrong with being goal driven or ambitious but one must not let that govern our every action.
Ekhart Tolle, in his book ‘Power of Now’ quoted “Time isn’t precious at all, because it is an illusion. What you perceive as precious is not time but the one point that is out of time: the Now. That is precious indeed. The more you are focused on time—past and future—the more you miss the Now, the most precious thing there is.”
On reading Tolle’s explanation of now, we realize that if we isolate the now or the present, from our past experiences or our future expectations, then what we are left with is the mere experience. To put simply, when we experience a particular moment, we can’t help but associate it with the various past experiences we’ve had. Our past experiences form a strong basis of understanding for any other experience. When we listen to our favourite childhood song, we enjoy it because we’ve enjoyed it as a child and have fond memories associated with it. But what if the experience of listening to that particular song was isolated to just this moment, free from the bias of childhood, free from the attachments we’ve build around it. Then in that moment we enjoy the song as it is and we realize that the song still makes us happy because of its own beauty and melody and not because how it made us feel at some point in the past.
Elizabeth Gilbert in her book ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ mentioned a really interesting anecdote about a friend who on visiting a beautiful place exclaimed  "It's so beautiful here! I want to come back here someday!" This may sound very funny to many, but small gestures like choosing to take pictures in a particular moment stem from a similar thought – ‘it’s so beautiful that I want to click a picture so I have a memory of it when I’m away from here’. But the irony of this is that in that particular moment we are at the place at that time, yet we choose to think about the future and how we ought to remind our future selves that we were in this moment. By thinking about the future or the past, we have removed the sheer beauty of that particular moment and reduced it to a mere association of our past mental archetypes. Being fully present in the now and absorbing the complete essence of mindfulness would entail isolating the experience from the past or future and looking at it from a non-biased stand point.
The practice of meditation and yoga has been proven to inculcate mindfulness in people. There are numerous studies which are being done to show the benefits of mindfulness. In fact mindfulness has been proved to be so helpful that a prison offering Vipassana meditation training for inmates found that those who completed the course showed lower levels of drug use, greater optimism, and better self-control, which could reduce recidivism.
When we meditate or during asana or pranayama practice, we are practicing what we call complete awareness. You would find it very difficult to hold a pose if you are thinking about what happened at work or what to make for dinner, instead you would be thinking about which muscles to relax, how to exhale and guide your breath into the tight areas of your body. You don’t realize it but in that moment you are fully aware and present. In that moment you are thinking about nothing but the now. And that is how my practice helps me inculcate mindfulness.

Another really interesting aspect about our mind and our brain is neuro-plasticity. The more we practice mindfulness the more our brain gets organized to continue practicing mindfulness. The neurons which are at work and the electrical signals which flow through our brain get hard-wired in our brain to repeatedly perform the same kind of transaction. And hence when people ask me if they can learn to be mindful, I answer with a loud YES. One can always learn to be mindful. Initially it may take effort and sometimes forcefully applying effort itself may inhibit you from being mindful, but one must always remember, being mindful is not an action, or a forceful thought-process, it is the mere isolation of one’s past and future from the now. It is that act of experiencing the moment as it is; knowing that it will not have any implications of on your future and is separate from what you have experienced in the past. This moment, the NOW, lies outside of time. 

P.S- A trained behavioral psychologist , Priyanjali started her yogic journey with Kriya Kundalini Yoga, followed by Ashtanga -Vinyasa training at Yogakul. After completing a course at Sivananda Vedanta centre in New Delhifor Sivananda Yog, she attained her 200 hour Hath yoga teachers training at Shrimath yoga, certified by the Yoga Alliance International.Priyanjali has worked with leadership development consulting and emotional intelligence training, which she combines with her yoga practice and teaching.