An emptiness that’s fulfilling – my experience with the isha shoonya program

Over the last four days, I had the opportunity to attend the shoonya intensive programme at the isha ashram in coimbatore.

Intensive is the right word – indeed it’s the first thing that strikes you about the program. Right from the consecrated hall which sends out intense vibes, the format of the program which makes sure that every minute is accounted for effectively, and the very wise teachers (who are also full time volunteers) and the program volunteers who take service to a whole different level altogether, and of course the curated videos of Sadhguru which ensure that concepts become internalised truths in you – intensity is a word that perfectly describes the programme.

The interesting thing though is this – all this intense focus does not translate into long faces and on-edge behaviour. Indeed there’s a sense of relaxation and gentle humour pervading the entire program.

At every moment there’s the sense that a good-natured-laugh and a profound learning is just a minute away.

The teaching is deep – and like all of the best things in life, the practices grow on you over time. I know this from past experience. On my very first isha program, I was surprised when the teacher advised us not to take notes.

“This is not a learning of the mind, but an experience to go through. Just stay with us and you will pick it all up” he said

I have come to appreciate that there is a different way to learn – that of experiential learning. You learn through hearing, seeing, visualisation, doing and repetition. And stuff learned this way stays with you – its a transmission of experience not just a transfer of concepts.

So what I did I learn? I came back with two practices – about an hour’s worth of daily practice – which promise deep restfulness and explosive energy respectively. If these seem contradictory, its another fact I have come to appreciate about spirituality at large – its hard to decode spiritual practices with just the mind. The best approach is to try it for a while and see if it does something to you. When it comes from a true source, it will often flower into something that you cannot explain or predict – its beyond words. The little while is a mandala to start with – about 40 days of uninterrupted practice for the practice to take root in your life. Its something I will be able to do hopefully – and will look to post on any experiences.

But there’s another learning that’s stayed with me.In one of the videos played, Sadhguru mentions that every day he is greeted by tears of joy no matter where he happens to be in the world. And I believe, its these tears of joy and gratitude toward their master and the world that inspire the teachers and the volunteers to share so much and so well – with absolutely no expectations.

Indeed that’s the learning – that there’s an extraordinary way to go about one’s life – being relaxed yet attentive, intensely focused, with a smile on the face, and a joy in the heart. When you work like that, I guess you are a blessing to the world.

Its an inspired way to live and work – and while a long shot, its something that I look to internalise – stay tuned for any progress updates!

Read, Reflect, Rest – The 3 magical Rs!

It’s been a long while since my last post here. Why is that? I don’t know. I guess there are seasons when you are prolific, and then seasons when you are prolific – but at something else. You read, you reflect and you rest during those periods and the 3rs help you gain much-needed perspective to help you thrive in the busier seasons!

Reading opens out new worlds, introduces some cool friends and adventures, equips one to see the world in a new way. Is this what the ancients meant by the word “darshan”? For the “objective” world may not change, your world can though – when you begin to see the world in a different way.

The seeds of knowledge gained from reading sprout into wisdom when we reflect. Indeed ideas become habits, theories turn into practices only when we reflect a lot. The ancients prescribed meditation and contemplation in tandem – distilling our perceptions and learnings into deep-rooted insights.

The rest – is more of a repose. All of this mental activity needs a stable base to take effect. Rest need not mean just sleep – though sleep also helps as the mind subconsciously works out its magic. A restful walk, yoga, a spot of fishing, cooking – anything that puts the mind to rest is what I mean.

So that’s the thought for today. Prolific writing followed by periods of 3Rs as the seasons follow one another. Neither rushed, neither forced. Just allowing the inner wisdom to work on the inspirations from the world – sometimes internally and sometimes as a material product (an essay, a sculpture, a poem, a theorem, a business plan even maybe). It happens.

Would you agree?

Savouring the flowers admidst all the noise!

Another one of those weeks where everybody, everywhere (and their team!) is screaming work – “we want this on priority – meaning yesterday!”. Phone calls are ringing off the hook, computers are overworked and alarm clock utilization has just hit the roof.

As I walk to my car and plug in my phone, the itunes player comes alive with John Denver effortlessly singing my favourite Anthem “It’s about time“. Savour teh opeing lyrics of this amazing song:

“There’s a full moon over India and Gandhi lives again.

Who’s to say you have to lose for someone else to win?

In the eyes of all the people, the look is much the same,

for the first is just the last one when you play a deadly game”.

He’s of course singing about the environment and our need to take care of it. He could be singing though about the “fast life” of today and the words would ring just as true.

And my mind wanders to those little “living games” (as opposed to the deadly ones John sings about) where “you dont have to lose for someone else to win” – everyone wins. And I break out into a smile. Here’s a sample list that came to mind, what are yours?:

– The warm, welcoming toothless smile the old lady sports when a toddler successfully (and naturally with a big proud grin on her face) walks for the first time – a walk she has attempted to share her birthday chocolates with grandma

– When the young, blind musician plays a mesmerising tune on his flute, his eyes and mind on a better, beautiful world far away. The enchanting melody draws a large crowd which spontaneously breaks into a loud applause – and the musician smiles realizing this world is just as good as the “heavens of his dreams” and in celebration of this discovery he instantly presents a fun earthy tune for his wonderful audience

– A young girl from a traditional family gets caught up in the teenage spirit and parties hard – only to be busted by the local police. As she waits for bail (her first time out at the police station) – she trembles in fear of what her very orthodox father would say and the effect this would have on their social circle. At this moment, her father comes in and with a huge smile of relief hugs her and consoles her tears. She knows she is accepted unconditionally – a lesson she willingly trades her partying days for. Her father knows his days of being the stern disciplinarion are over – his daughter has transformed into a friend. A bond has just been built..

And so on….little moments that have profound implications for all those participating. They go unnoticed for the most part on media and the “noise-focussed” channels – but anyone touched by the moment is grateful for his/ her life has been changed forever.

Suddenly the never-ending phone calls, the never-ceasing email flow, the seemingly-unending asks from the family – all seem bearable – even desireable. For who knows, one of these may hold a rare flower that will change your life for ever – and all you need to do is believe that there’s a flower in there somewhere and take the time to stop and experience it.

Happy Independence Day

The Independence Day is a day of celebration, a precious reminder to offer our gratitude to the generations gone by for teaching us the power of freedom and making this possible; and a day of hope – for what the future will bring.

The right time in short for being enchanted by Tagore’s magical, visionary and inspirational poetry (and a special thanks to my kolkata friends for introducing me to this genius’ works). Come, lets hear what he has to say:

Where The Mind Is Without Fear

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high

Where knowledge is free

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments

By narrow domestic walls

Where words come out from the depth of truth

Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way

Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit

Where the mind is led forward by thee

Into ever-widening thought and action

Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

Lead without a title – a Robin Sharma seminar experience

Late last week I attended my first Robin Sharma seminar – this one was titled “lead without a title”. This post captures my impressions and a few takeaways (have taken a lot of poetic license with the verbiage but trust it would cover the essence well) that I thought will benefit all my readers.

It took place at a prominent Chennai landmark – the ITC Grand Chola – and was packed to capacity – about 800 delegates turned out for the meeting. What stood out was Robin’s involvement in the seminar – a lot of the delegates were leaders in their own right (and perhaps cynical of management guru speak) – to his credit, Robin displayed great energy, focus and had the participants engaged through the 3 hour meet. His delivery and voice modulation (not to mention the simple but impactful slideware) added to the experience.

He opened with a very engaging question “In your last hour of your last day on this planet, what would you be proud of?”.

At that point obviously office sizes didn’t matter, nor did bank balances or assets owned. He let the question hanging in the air for a while and offered an answer – you will be proud of just two things – on that fateful hour of the destined day:

1. Who you have become as a person

2. And how many people you have helped

Reinforcing this point was a wonderful Steve Jobs quote

“being the richest man in the graveyard doesn’t matter to me. Going to bed knowing we have done something wonderful matters to me.”

That got us thinking – and we were invited to identify 1 idea that was most meaningful to us – and the idea had to be expressed in just a few words. An example chosen by one of the delegates (who led a 3000 strong company) was “make 3000 leaders”. Another doctor decided “founding a medical college” was most meaningful for him.

Ideas have no value until they get implemented was the next clarion call.

Toward implementation, a few powerful insights were provided:

1. The 90-90-1 rule: For the next 90 days, spend the 1st 90 minutes (which apparently are the most productive minutes of the day) on your most powerful business opportunity/ personal goal identified in the para above. The focus would make this a reality

2. The 66 day rule: If one kept up a behavior for 66 days, it would become part of your muscle memory – become a habit infact. Great sportsman for instance don’t think about the special moves they make – the moves are hardwired into their system by force of daily habit. Interestingly, the Hindus (and I suspect the Buddhists) believe that 21 is the magic number (also called a mandala) – so whatever works for you – 66 is Robin’s magic number though

3. Genius = Focus.Practice.Grit. Genius is not about only talent. His view was 5% are super achievers (the majority 95% are the average set!) not because they have the maximum talent but because they were persistent in developing genius through continued focus, extensive practice and remarkable grit.

A couple other vignettes which caught my attention:

a. An average person apparently spends 2.1 hours/ day getting distracted.  And why would they do that – because being distracted makes people feel productive! Busyness is not equal to effectiveness! Eliminating this he opined will alone free up enormous times

b. You are paid not just to work, you are paid to be scared! His feel was that if we felt we were successful due to being associated with a successful company, we were very vulnerable. The seduction of safety is most dangerous people!

Finally, there was this Mary Angelou quote somewhere toward the end which I thought summed it all very well

 “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Thanks Robin and the organizers – Eyeball Media  – was a good experience – and time to pass on the stories for others interested as well……

Inspiration comes easy…

There seems room for celebration in these apparently paradoxical times. Our heroes provide inspiration unlimited, having overcome seemingly impossible odds -consider the following:

Sheena Iyengar, one of the leading experts on “choices” in our increasingly-visual world happens to be blind

One of the greatest composers ever (Beethovan) couldn’t hear his own tunes

StephenHawking inspires us to think of limitless galaxies and dark holes from the confines of a wheelchair

Quite a few great scientists believed in a God; while Mendel, a priest discovered stuff that makes him revered even today as the “father of genetics”

We see spirit triumph over the body – Christopher Reeve, our superman’s body succumbed to an accident, his spirit didn’t; Lance Armstrong won the tour de France after a successful fight with cancer – and declared “it’snotaboutthebike!”

And these are only a sample….so what could be stopping us from reaching greatness?

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Krishna – and why everyone just loves him…

Ok, this is a replug of my post from a few years earlier. However its refreshed – and more importantly its adorned with a wonderful piece of art by young school-going Richi, the daughter of a wonderful friend who wonders why her daughter seems to favour krishna above anything else as the subject of her art. Read through this post and maybe there’s an answer mam!

Relish this drawing from the little girl  – they capture the spirit of krishna and his wonderous ways more than words ever could.

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For those who haven’t come across this God yet in the travels of their life, Krishna is a god for everyone. if you are an intellectual, he can teach you the lofty truths of vedanta. If you are emotional and full of feeling, his endearing stories and his very life history (bhagavatam) will talk to your heart. If you are one who revels in the experience of god, he can teach you meditation. And if none of these appeal to you just now, he can teach you a way of living through righteous action (karma yoga).

Philosopher, social worker, friend, warrior monk, king – he is an incredible package – even by Godly standards. Think about picking one gentle man who encompasses the best of harry potter, lao tzu, batman, superman and another 20 such super starts – and you begin to get the idea…

 

Why do we need a god in the first place? Some need it for inspiration, some need it for solace, some need a year-round santa claus to give them gifts, some are lookign desperately for hope and reassurance of a better future, some need an ear to listen to them. Truth spoken  – God means different things to different people – and when a God can relate to each of our needs, he transcends to become a super God in our eyes.

So how do we relate to God?

There are 5 major ways we relate to a God – and based on our need and our evolution, we choose the appropriate one – so proclaim the scriptures.  Each of these ways allows you to build a personal relationship so he can bring you the grace you wish to enjoy –  you can look upon God as your child, a beloved, a dear friend, a master or of course as the all knowing God (capitalized at that!). While many of us may find it difficult to relate to the lord as an absolute entity (try imagining a formless, nameless, attributeless entity named god and you will understand the challenge!), we can with greater success imagine him as an adorable child, a dark-skinned youth with charms to rival any mills-and-boons character, a dear friend and so on. Incredibly, Krishna mythology has different people relating to him through each of these ways – all with equal success. Now, isn’t that special? let’s hear out a few stories to round things off.   

Yasodha (his foster mother) related to him as her child, and by all accounts he was a most mischievous child. There are many, many endearing tales of his pranks – here’s one that also hints at his godliness.  One day he put a lump of sand in his mouth and when she forcibly opened his mouth, legend has it that she saw the entire universe instead of the grains of sand she was seeking to remove. She must have felt blessed and a little disoriented too (we can only imagine that she must have given him a free hand to eat what he wanted post this incident!).

Radha (and the gopis) related to Krishna as their beloved. You’ll find tons of stories (and paintings) detailing this relationship across India. This one is not the typical romeo story though, it has several shades of spiritual meaning in it. For the common man/ woman, there’s one key takeaway – krishna loves Radha that he would do anything for her sake. So if you have a favour to ask of  Krishna (buy a house, score more marks, win an Olympic medal – or is that one too difficult!), you better get radha on your side and she will pleade your case successfully with him!!

As a friend, Krishna stands alone – especially in times of need, tales abound of how he comes to his friend’s need. The only favour he asks in return is true unallyed friendship – which of course in these days of caution, many are loathe to give! India’s inspirational masterpiece – the bhagavad gita are but a conversation he has with a close buddy (Arjuna) where he gently coaxes his friend to achieve greatness – of all things on a battlefield. Think about it – if you were the friend of the commando and in a war – and your friend loses his will and wits – would you stay back and inspire him to fight the war of his life or do a quick abscond. My survey says, 99% would take the latter route – perhaps a reason we aren’t a krishna!

There’s also a story where he is graciousness itself while meeting a childhood friend who has fallen upon hard times and showers grace and abundance on him unasked. The friend’s life is transformed infinitely for the better – as all authentic encounters with Krishna are wont to do. 

And who can forget the the dramatic incident where he alone among the numerous wise men at court steps up to save his friend Draupadi during a shameful episode where her husbands gamble her away to their cousins – who attempt to disrobe her. Everytime I read this one, i feel this is where feminism started as a movement, and rightly so!

Krishna somehow seems to have a tender heart, high intellect and awesome brawn – and all of this he readily employs for those who need them. And in this time of a needy human populace, no wonder he is a such a popular God. There’s a fascinating story of two folks – a king and an old lady (who has but a cow to call her own) – who pray regularly to Krishna. The King prayed for – well  more – more power, more fame, more riches (he was like most of us!), while the old lady prayed for krishna’s grace. One day – lo and behold – Krishna showered his blessings on them.  The king got an expanded kingdom and retired happily for the night (the next day of course he could resume his request for just a little bit more again!) while the old lady’s cow died. “How could you do this, my lord” asked a perplexed (and one can imagine very angry) minister to Krishna. Krishna answers– “All the king wanted was more material riches so I gave him that. It’s going to take him eons to outgrow his fascination for the riches and ask for eternity. The lady though – she has almost reached the land of bliss but her attachment to the cow is preventing her from taking the final jump to godliness – and hence I took that away. Now she truly is with me”. The lady we understand is now above gracing us with her benevolence, the king of course is now back on earth (possibly suited and booted too) and was last heard asking Krishna for a jaguar XJ or atleast a beemer. We haven’t heard back from the cow yet….

On that note, here’s bidding adieu to this post. Krishna’s birthday is celebrated across the world as a momentous day, the day when God descended on earth in a human form. Women paint little feet inviting this wonderful, wise and fun God into their homes.  Let’s pray that his teachings, his form and his very life (called lilas) bring us serenity, a smile and  profound grace into our lives. 

Another meditation on the source of all things..

Sometimes, a man just wakes up and puts his pen on paper (or his fingers on a computer these days) and starts writing. He has no goal and definitely no expectation of a reward – be it monetary, fame or power. Many a time, he doesn’t even consider himself a writer, and he would be hard pressed to answer from where this urge to write sprung from – indeed he would say the writing just happened as opposed to him being the writer. And when this happens – we may witness the outpouring of some pristine prose. This emergent prose belongs not to the author. Indeed, it does not belong to this world. It comes from within, from a space that is far deeper and is called variedly by many names including “benediction”, “presence” and “god”.

Those who witness the beauty of such prose forget themselves for a minute. They are enthralled and for that brief minute transformed into a connoisseur of life. A glimpse is often enough to send a man in search of his destiny attempting to savour more of this delectable experience. Such fortunate men and women can be recognized by their “ illumination and joyous” countenance – though they may be clad in the robe of a business man, fashioned as an artist or bathed in saffron like the renunciant.

Sometimes, the “specialness” of such prose is not in its structure but in its “timeliness”. It may not read well, and it may not engage the mind. However for the person who needs it, its message strikes home – it is just what the “doctor above” has ordered to restore the physical, emotional and spiritual health of his beloved child on earth.

Occasionally, it’ comes not as the written word but as a compassionate word spoken to a friend in need. Many a time, the benevolence is more subtle than a word –  it takes the form of a thought for a loved one. It can also manifest in other forms – in the guise of a shoulder we can lean on or a stranger strangely sensitive to our needs. When we are part of such a phenomenon, it is good to recognize it for what it is – we have witnessed not an addition to the burgeoning world of transactions, but have had a glimpse into what makes a man human.

Some forms of course are always bewitching – even the basest man cannot afford to be not moved by this. Think of a star filled sky, the immensity and the blueness of the ocean, the attractiveness of an infant, the affability of a very elderly person and the absolute stillness of the monk. In these, you can always find solace and maybe if you look deeply enough even answers to existential questions.  

Let’s take the moment to say a prayer and a few words of gratitude –for the people, the things and the experiences that have been part of our journey. The spirit of the gayatri mantra (which came forth through sage vishwamitra – an exceptional seer who is revered for his wisdom and “never give up” attitude) which beseeches the sun to illuminate the world and uplift it to a godly state of effulgence is an appropriate one to remember at this time.