Mind, Meditation and Mathematics

You select a beautifully appropriate place at home and sit down for meditation only to find out that you don’t have a beautiful mind, not even close.  It keeps plotting against you and the point that you are seeking is moving faster than a ray.  You persist and then your thoughts begin to go around in circles and eventually upgrade to the concentric kind. You direct your mind to a mantra but it goes off at a tangent. A nightmare unfolds and you are caught in parallel streams of thought that alternate with bizarre force and segment your purpose in a way that corresponds to no other.

What is integral to meditation is a calm mind but your quest for the Infinite gives you negative results perchance with a few exceptions. A satori here and a satori there shows you that what looks real isn’t.  A peek into the Absolute makes you value your practice. Sadly though, with time these experiences dwindle into distant and faint memories and you go back to square one. Almost.

Finding that you are at variance with your end point, you adjust your position.  Immediately, you begin to experience acute pain and you can no longer be obtuse about it. The spiritual teachings suddenly appear to not add up and the linear growth that you humbly accepted flounders. Resolving to multiply your efforts, you subtract all distractions. You find that no matter what the angle of rotation, you get nowhere because the horizontal and vertical dimensions converge at a new point and lo! to your dismay the axis itself has moved.

All is not lost though, since some equations with family are easier now and you can solve problems that were outnumbering your skills exponentially. In all probability, you will receive signs to encourage you, but are they enough? The odds of winning this game lessen.

The fourth quadrant of your life dawns on you, and with renewed enthusiasm and determination, you sit day after day but the progress is not worth graphing about.  All your failed attempts make you look like an average achiever and you conclude that the blame lies below.  Considering that you never did so well in Mathematics but aced your Geography, you get on a plane, and fly to the Pyramids only to hit a dead-end. Your next stop is the mountains.  True, the coordinates have changed and it seems to help for a bit, that is till you hit a plateau. Location, location, location! Whose foolish idea was that? When you finally accept that you cannot trace the Infinite, you get still and behold! you are at the Origin.

Will the real “Self” stand up please?

What is there, really, except the Self? Why the eternal dilemma? Why isn’t it easy to step out of maya? What if, instead of assuming that there is a Self to discover behind the false, illusionary sense of “I”, we decide that there is nothing else! Because the false, illusionary, sense of “I” is indeed just that!  Start with birth. Did I cause the birth of the body? No. Did I pick the parents, the name, the place of birth? No. How about at least, the time of birth? No. Will I pick the date of death, the place, the time, the how?  No, no, no and no. Do I control the growth of my body, my cells, my digestive system? Do I direct my breathing?  Any organ at all?  Can I tell the heart how fast to beat when I run and how slow when I rest? Do I direct the weather, the earth, the sky, the plants, the animals or the birds? What about the mind?  Did I create it?  Do I cause the stream of thoughts or their cessation? Nothing at all!

Then who is this impersonator pretending to be everything when in fact, it pretty much does nothing? Is there anything in this world that is more ridiculous than the ego?

Sequel:

Two hours after I wrote this, I tried to kick a fly out the door. My only sorry explanation for that is, it was a fight or flight response! Pitifully, the illusionary ‘I’ could not even accomplish that successfully.  Not only did I not touch the fly, but my foot went flying into a doorframe and I broke my pinky toe. After the initial pain of the impact passed, I was horrified at the direction my toe was taking.  It was pointing more to the East than North.

Thankfully, I remembered the gratitude lesson from Jon Kabat-Zinn’s 9 attitudes.  Nah! I am just kidding!  But seriously, I was completely conscious of the emotional drama that ensued in my mind, though not conscious enough to step out of it.  Normally, I would have merely called it ironic that I read about pain vs suffering earlier in the day, and that I began writing this post, but now I realized, they all happened to help me witness and to deal with this blow mindfully. I went from an ouch-worthy moment to an aha moment in the blink of a fly, err, eye! I was able to accept the not-so Urgent Care I received, the painful painkiller shot and the delay in treatment (which was next day by a podiatrist) with much more equanimity than I would have otherwise. Apparently, this thing works.  Thank you, Thich Nhat Hanh – “No Mud, No Lotus”!! No, I didn’t read that book – but the title says a lot.

My Inner Journey – Final

I wondered whether to title this post ‘Part 2’ or ‘Final’. Part 2 could point to the possibility of yet another part, which I didn’t want. And ‘final’ sounds like I reached my destination.  Which I haven’t. Obviously. But it begs the question – is there an end to this journey?

My outer journey will most definitely end one day. But now that I am aware of the timeless and deathless realm – why do I refer to and treat my inner journey as though it has an end? Awakening is a process and I am now for the first time, considering that maybe, there is no end to this process. Perhaps it will turn out to be as eternal as my Self.  How do you reach the lengths, or depths rather, of infinity? Just the idea of experiencing limitless truth, joy and love is enticing.  And it is liberating since there is no goal – the further I go, the farther I can go! How beautiful!

To make a long journey short, Eckhart Tolle came into my life and taught me a million things. I mentioned in Part 1 that my life did not change dramatically enough because I probably have a billion things to learn. Or who knows, the next thing may dissolve everything for me since grace is not a mathematical progression. The illusion that the mind carries is huge indeed, but it is no match for the unbounded truth.

Returning to the source of this thread, how do you know you have found your guru?  Simple.  You don’t google anymore.  Not for gurus, certainly.  Not for teachers. Not for inspiration and definitely not for enlightenment.  You will be absolutely open to other teachings, but you will always return home to the one.

The most significant thing I learnt from Eckhart Tolle is not to live my life in compartments.  I so vividly remember yelling at my (then) 6 year old daughter, when I sat down for meditation once and she wouldn’t leave me alone!  I didn’t know at the time, that it is not about what you do, but how you do what you do. Every situation and every relationship in your life is best suited to take you to the next post!

Karma Yoga Demystified

The Bhagavad Gita, amongst other things talks about Karma Yoga, the path of consecrated action.  I never liked the word ‘consecrated’ – just a personal prejudice, I guess. I used it here just to tell you that I don’t like it! I love the word ‘sacred’ though.  It has a beauty and depth, perhaps because of the symbolism associated with it.  Anyway, getting back to the action, how do you make your actions sacred? The answer seems so obvious and yet it took me a lifetime to get it.

How do you treat something that you consider sacred?  What would your attitude be?  Would you give it attitude?  Nah!  You give it respect.  You give it your attention and you give it it’s due.  So why did I not get it in the first place?

karmanyevadhikaraste ma phalesu kadachana…

B. Gita, Chapter 2, sloka 47

Invariably, the translations I came across all said that you should perform your work without expecting anything in return or you do your work but you have no right to the result.  I somehow could not relate to these translations and interpretations.  A slightly attractive version was that you should not be attached to the results of the action, and therefore perform your work with detachment.  This too I could not implement.  Detachment is dry business, unless you know what it’s all about.  If I work, I certainly have a goal in mind.  If you tell me I have no right to the result of my action, I wouldn’t even be motivated to do most of the stuff I do.

So how do you reconcile this?  The answer could be simple. You shift the focus from the result to the action.  If you focus on the result, your attention will be divided and you will self-sabotage.  Take a simple example: if your child has to take a test, what would you tell him or her?  Please focus on the result and the test will take care of itself? Not at all! What you would suggest is, give all your attention to the test, and the result will take care of itself.  Extending this example, when you prepare for a test, you will not focus on the test itself, but the preparation, the study, the practice or whatever. So, every action is like a test.  If we focus on the action, the result will take care of itself.  Too simple?  Maybe, but works for me! And I owe this understanding to my teacher.

 

My Inner Journey – Part 1

The Journey to the Infinite Depths starts with one question: Who am I?  Ramana Maharshi is famous for this teaching.  Before I ever got to this level, I asked a different question and not of myself.

When I was 16 years old, I casually asked my mother, not “what will my future be,” but what was in the book she was reading. I had seen her read the same book for several years, but never stopped to really notice, much less to ask her about it. She replied briefly, “Why don’t you read it and find out for yourself?”

She was reading the Bhagavad Gita, the Hindu scripture that is like a Book of Answers to one seeking esoteric knowledge.  If anyone asked me about a book I was reading, I would certainly jump to give them a summary, my interpretation or at the least, show off my own knowledge and taste.  But not my mother.  Her answer had a deep impact on my inner journey and I am forever grateful.

I took her advice, and read a few chapters that were her favorites. I was totally impressed by the lilting poetry of Chapter 10, and the powerful two chapters that followed. I stuck with those and read one each day. ‘Everyday’ is key to any practice, I suppose. Eventually I traversed all 18 chapters and became very familiar with the text and even memorized a lot of it. I used a translation because I was pretty good at reading Sanskrit but not understanding it and the rest of my learning was helped by listening to discourses.

My interest in spirituality deepened.  I read many, many books and I learnt meditation from at least 4 or 5 different sources.  I prayed desperately for a guru.  But I assumed that gurus can only teach directly, so I pretty much thought that my only option was to go to an ashram.  It didn’t seem practical and I wasn’t that adventurous – and there was no guru for a long time.

My spiritual practice was mainly limited to the confines of my puja room but I grew more and more restless, because my mind never came in with me.  One day, I heard Eckhart Tolle – thanks to Oprah, he did a web series on his book, A New Earth.  My sister had given me the Power of Now almost 10 years before that, but it went over my head.  His teaching resonated with me and I subscribed to his online teaching.  Life changed.  But not dramatically enough.

(To be continued…)

Who am I?

The sun has set on me several times

In every life that I woke up

Many fingers pointed to the moon but

I was enamored by the fingers and

Gazed from one to the other

I traced the finger back only to see

Who was pointing and how

It never occurred to me to follow the finger

In the direction to which it pointed

For there was the Moon

That was Self-effulgent

Before the sun sets on me again and

I get blindsided by the breathtaking moment

I pray I can see the Moon for my Self!