Thursday 21 November 2013

The WOW Factor Within You

Always multitasking, even if there is time to do things one by one? Hankering for a snack, drink, or a cigarette every 15 minutes? If so, this piece is for you.

The modern life puts on us the shackles of stability and predictability. And we have been heading here since the Industrial Revolution gave us the mass-produced clock. Or, as believe some, the omnipresent clock gave us the work efficiency which enabled the Revolution. Whichever is true, each of our weekdays starts at the same hour. The temperature and brightness in our office remain constant during the day. Our job tasks are probably repetitive too. Even in our spare time, the radio keeps playing the same droning playlist over and over. Repertoire in the music player begs for a makeover. Our environment is stable and controlled, but our brain desires evergreen distraction. Longing for it becomes an all familiar feeling. 

We plug ourselves to the Internet, but the email and Facebook interfaces are always just the same. 

Designed for ease of use. Seem corny already. We observe the notification icon with alertness. Like a suricate viewing the static landscape of a prairie. Spam. Commercial. Funny Picture. Refresh. Refresh. Refresh. Tweet. But, the ether gets only staler. Unbearable instants of nothing happening. Let’s hope for the weekend. A party may bring something juicy for the senses. But then, we don’t feel like going the same places again...

Life became smoother, convenient and connected. And we like it. But too often, nothing seems to be happening! 

Whether we resort to the Internet, TV or fridge, our satisfaction is only momentary. The hunger we are trying to feed seems perennial. 

Yoga and Buddhist traditions propose various means to brake this vicious cycle. The concept I share with you today is called Mindfulness (smá¹›ti or samyama in yoga). The best part comes first- there is no new technique or gymnastics you need to learn. Rather, 

you want to unlearn the habit of being Mindless.  The bottom line is changing the way we experience your surroundings.

We were all born with this skill, and it is best visible in kids who cultivate it instinctively. Recall now how they interact with Nature. Butterfly! Wow! They follow it single-mindedly into a meadow. Flower! They pick petals off it and examine closely their scent, colour, structure, and why not, the taste. Silence. Time stops when they inspect intersection of a halved orange with a glowing gaze. They probe it with finger pads, tongue or chick. Simple things. We take them for granted. They marvel wholeheartedly and their jaws drop in dismay. 

Mindfulness means that our entire attention is with our actions, even if we could execute then mechanically. This attitude knows no purpose, because purpose takes us away from the present moment. The focus is here and now. Multiple senses are involved, so that objects can be felt rather than thought.

Simply lying down can also be done in a mindful way, providing the mind is occupied with our intimate bodily sensations and not with intangible thoughts. But, for an adult, it may be easier to first practice Mindfulness in activities which feel new to them. 

Brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand and absorb how it feels. 

This will help you bring your entire attention to the action of brushing, rather than thinking of your breakfast, commute or office. Alter your daily routines to give them a fresh twist. Then do them single-mindedly. And stick to this new attitude. You will discover how this quenches your thirst of evergreen distraction.

Once in a while, throw yourself into an adventure out of town. If you have practiced Mindfulness for a while, you may have lost interest in costly extreme sports explorations. 

Simply take a train instead of a plain next time you visit your family. Airports are mind-numbing. Train stations (especially in India) are mind-blowing. 

Open your senses and absorb the manifestations of life. People yawning, waking from the sleep. Queuing to the toilets. Babies crying. In the coach it may get rough for your senses. Do not fantasize about the comfort of an aircraft you had forgone or about your journey’s destination. Instead, experience the smell of fermented melons and oily snacks. If you are on a night train, feel the hardness of the bed. If the sensations evoke some memories, just be aware of them as they arise in that moment. Refrain from getting carried away by them. Stay here and now.
Do you need Mindful living? If you are still not sure, observe someone in your surrounding whose behaviour has the symptoms of a Mindless attitude. 

Always multitasking, even if there is time to do things one by one? Hankering for a snack, drink or a cigarette every 15 minutes? Tuned in to the breaking news bar or showbiz gossips feeds 24/7? Over-stimulated, yet constantly craving?

Studying others can be easier than self-study (svadhyaya), but is equally useful. Then see if their behaviour applies somehow to you. If yes, pick Mindfulness as your new hobby. Discreet, portable and free. But, very powerful.

Meditative eating and walking are exercises which should give you the experience of Mindful doing and being, which you will later look for in your daily life. They take time and are not meant to replace your normal activities. Practice them daily for a week to see how your life becomes richer and more satisfying. 

Eating an orange (15-30min)

  • Pick a juicy orange and wash it.
  • Smell it. Squeeze it slightly. Study the pores on its skin.
  • Halve it with a knife, across the wedges. Count the segments.
  • Explore the texture with your fingers, tongue, cheek etc.
  • Start skinning from the edge. Observe breaking of the white fibres from the skin. Then do it again close to your ear. How does it sound?
  • Take the removed skin and bend it, so that the orange essence is ejected from the pores on the outside. Do it again closer to your face, with your eyes closed. You should feel the essence being sprayed on your chick. Listen to the sound.
  • Continue disassembling the fruit. Remove the membrane of a single wedge. Play with the smaller segments inside the wedge.
  • Slowly, bring a piece closer to your mouth. Smell it. Feel if it has a different temperature than your lips. Then touch the lips. Start chewing the piece and observe how its taste changes in time. Observe the after taste before you reach for another piece. Be open to new experiences with each piece of the fruit.
  • You can repeat with another orange, this time skinning the entire fruit without cutting it into halves. On another day you can choose a different fruit.

Slow walking (10-30 min)

  • Find a space where you can practice slow walking, without being disturbed or observed by others.
  • Chose a path on which you will be walking. You can walk back and forth across a room, or in a circle.
  • Stand with your spine erect, but do not tense your shoulders. Look in front, at the level of your eyes.
  • Start walking on the chosen path at a normal pace, for about 2 min. Do not stop. Take your entire attention to how it feels to walk. Be with your bodily sensations. You can feel the movement in various body parts at a time, your neck, shoulders and arms, pelvis, tights, knees, calves, ankles and feet.
  • Halve the pace at which you were walking and continue for the next 3 min. Observe how the bodily sensations change, or become more perceivable, when you walk slower.
  • Repeat the previous step 2 more times. Each time walk at a halved pace for 3 min. Do not drop your sight. Keep the erect posture. Stay with your entire focus on how your body feels. You may now be able to distinguish minute sensations, such as the very moment when your rear foot detaches from the ground, or when the body weight is shifted from one side of your body to another.
  • Stop walking and remain with the physical sensations in your body for a few moments

First published here.

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