Meditation- The art of quietening the mind!

It’s a heart warming feeling, a boost to continue writing when words touch someone’s heart, inspire and intrigue others. Enthused by the endorsements of a few friends I wonder if that is what happens if you follow your heart and allow universe to guide your hands and show you the path!
“Meditation…. How do you learn to do this. Is it too late in later life, is it ever too late to learn something new” mused Val!

No it’s never too late. There is nothing to learn in meditation, it’s just relaxing and letting it happen! ” You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is such a defeatist, negative axiom.

I took up meditation a couple of years ago after not finding the inner peace, ” Home” through prayer and organised religion. Initially floundered, struggled and got frustrated, gave up on several occasions and started again till it became a habit. The days I ignored the routine of meditation were the hardest. At first sitting down doing nothing was hard and appeared pointless. A lifelong habit of keeping busy, chasing after deadlines, goals and dreams is indeed hard to break. In our quest for happiness we chase after money, position and everything that satisfies our Ego! But the Ego is never happy, it seeks after yet more money, yet higher position and yet more plaudits. Only by realising this and putting things in perspective and not merely chasing phantoms can we gain contentment and inner peace. Meditation helps with this!
But breaking the habit was not going to be easy I knew, but I hadn’t imagined that sitting down even for five minutes without doing anything, quietening the mind would be so hard. My mind would wander into lanes and alleys, along dark labyrinths which I had closed years ago trying to escape from the harsh realities of life. Then I chanced upon the teachings of the much misunderstood, maligned Acharya Rajneesh, who has the innate capability to speak in a language that resonates with modern, busy people. Meditation according to him, is becoming aware, being conscious of the serene blue sky and not getting distracted by the clouds that drift across it out of nowhere. Our thoughts are like the clouds, drifting across the mind like clouds drifting across the sky. To enjoy the serene blue sky or the quite mind we neither have to follow each cloud nor chase after each thought. Let them drift across as is their nature.

Mindfulness is a fairly new concept in the West, but it’s said that by practicing mindful breathing the Buddha attained enlightenment more than 2500 years ago. Is it possible for mere mortals to attain enlightenment? Yes, according to Buddhist tradition, Buddha nature is present in each and everyone and we can aspire to that state.

What is the most precious thing in the world?

Would it come as a surprise if I said that it is our breath?

We cannot live for more than a few minutes without the life giving oxygen unless we are trained yogis who remain in suspended animation for prolonged periods of time! This act we perform unawares throughout our life. If we can become aware of it and just concentrate on our most precious gem even for a few minutes, we can feel the bliss that we seek. How to bring this act into consciousness, how to develop concentration on our breath without being drawn away by our monkey minds? How to become mindful of our breath? Seems like a insurmountable mountain but practice byte size daily should eventually reward with reaching the apex of the mountain and the beautiful views from the top. Technology if used wisely could be a faithful servant and there are apps out there to help. Two particular apps I have found useful and have recommended with good results are Breathe and Qi Gong Meditation Relaxation. The first attempts to teach how to become mindful of our breath and the second guides us through beautiful vistas through visualization. I have found them very useful, hope people reading this blog would find them helpful as well.
Happy Meditation and peace to everyone!

Memories!

Memories are all that are left after a dear one departs on their journey.. be it a worldly one or the final journey.

Is it only the number of memories that denote the closeness of a relationship?

A day after we buried our mother we sat reminiscing, trying to hold on to her as long as possible if not in the material dimension at least in the ethereal mind dimension. Everyone recollecting pleasant conversations, actions and past events. Even the insignificant events gaining a certain gravitas by the richness of recollection. I had nothing to contribute. Having left  home, aged 18 and progressively moving away in the physical realm did I also create a gulf emotionally. In  later years this gulf widened due to her failing speech and our inability to communicate. How difficult it is to connect with someone if the non-verbal cues are missing. We tried a few times to see each other through the marvels of technology through Skype and even though we could see each other, there was still a lack!

Our memories are a play back of our experiences as we perceive them. Without the experience of relating how can we  have memories?

I was left with a feeling of lack, a void! Oh, how good it is to have experienced the bitterness and sweetness of a relationship! As, what I noticed was the recollections were mainly of sweet pleasant experiences. A conscious effort to erase all unpleasant, negative and bitter experiences or at least embellish them or distort them to make them appear positive and pleasant.

All I could do is to explore, dig deep inside my mind for scraps of experiences that I could recollect as memories. My box of memories had a meager hoard, whereas my siblings had a rich tapestry of memories as they had more experiences with her, both bad and good.

Chasing after our own happiness we sometimes ignore the importance of our close relationships. Departed loved ones don’t come back, we have only one life and one chance to relate with our close ones, we should take this opportunity to relate with compassion and love, so that we can  have material to recollect and connect to them after they have gone!

Lacking the experiences, which I could recollect and reminisce I prayed and meditated to find inner peace and “HOME”

Do our prayers and meditations help us to connect with the departed soul? Do they help the departed soul on it’s onward journey as many religions state? Or do they only help the ones that are  left behind? Does it really matter who it really helps!

Rituals and Rites!

Acceptance,  inner peace and coming “Home” after the loss of a loved one are not easy. Culture, tradition and religion seek to provide a path to follow, rituals and rites to perform and prayers for the departed. But do these rituals, prayers and the funeral rites help us find peace or are just a blind person’s stick to help steady us during the initial period of loss and confusion?

What is Ritual?

According to the Oxford dictionary ritual is defined as “A religious or solemn ceremony consisting of a series of actions performed according to a prescribed order:” However if we are just following the prescribed actions without the intention or thought of what we are hoping to achieve from it, it ends up being an empty, hollow, useless physical exercise.

My friend Seani says and I quote him “For me ritual is the practice of tuning in to a more meditative space and then using that space to access different states of consciousness. This can be for grounding, or self-awareness or emotional release.” Further he elaborates “Rituals are probably the best way to tune into spirituality. Most religions have quite empty and shallow rituals that don’t really touch the magic or the spirit”.

Nearly every religion and culture has got rituals and rites of passage at birth, coming of age, marriage and finally at death. I hadn’t realised the importance of ritual in the grieving process. However I am not sure we understand the meaning of these rituals. In our tradition we bathe and clean the body and bury it in a particular manner. I presume its the same case in other traditions. I am sure each religions priests can explain the meaning far better than me. I am not sure how much of the compliance to these rituals is due to fear of causing displeasure to a vengeful god, but as long as the rituals fulfil a basic human need for honouring the dead they are valuable!
What I can’t understand is why if we show such respect to the dead, we do not show the same respect and honour the living.

Prayer another ritual, If not just a mere repetition of chants, verses or hymns and is a true communion with “Spirit” can be transformative and bring peace. It’s said that the prayer of the prophet Mohammed and his companions was such a communion. Is our prayer like that now? If not why not?

However is there only one way of prayer and are one set of rituals better than others? Let alone the conflict amongst the various religions, I found such diverse opinions even in our own family regarding beliefs and rituals related to death and burial. One insisting that we recite the Quran daily and not confine it to set days, that we do not follow certain rituals as they are “unislamic” and another suggesting we follow some rituals that are perhaps a bit tainted by the influence of the prevailing culture of India! Doesn’t religion get influenced by culture? Is any religion an exact representation of the founders teachings?

Perhaps its more important that instead of debating what is authentic and what is not, creating schisms and conflict, violence and death, blindly following “a series of actions performed according to a set order” as the Oxford dictionary defines and follow my friend Seani’s line of thinking,” touch the magic, tune into that deep meditative space and use these rituals for gaining self awareness, emotional release and spiritual growth” and learn compassion, they would help us more in finding that inner peace and come “Home”

Everyday Saints and Martyrs!

Do saints and martyrs still walk among us? Who do we consider  a saint and who do we think of as a martyr?

Interesting questions triggered after coming across someone whose strength of character and resilience was worth emulating. In human interactions each contact leaves an imprint, some barely perceptible while others are deep and profound. If only we soften and are more receptive, allowing freedom for the other person to express without clouding the interaction with our own prejudices and preconceptions, we can gain a deeper understanding.

A few days ago, one such interaction has left a deep impression. A woman in her forties who seemed to have finally woken up to her own needs after giving so much of herself to others.

Born in a close knit, traditional catholic family in the USA, she spent a few of her childhood years, scarred by a chronic disease with frequent incarcerations in hospital and several operations, in a Muslim country when her father was posted in Iran. This was before the Islamic revolution of 1979, yet the call for prayer reverberated in her young years and she saw her friends praying five times a day. Deeply traumatized by the events of the revolution and saddened by the loss of life, she still recollects her earlier years with fondness despite the fact that she was uprooted and had to return to USA. Its hard to imagine the impact her struggle with her own illness and the trauma of witnessing violence left on her young mind. Did it make her bitter or give her the strength to face the hardships she had to endure later in life.

Struggling to stay in an abusive relationship with an alcoholic husband. Finding strength to be there and care for her own mother during her struggle with the pain of cancer and its treatment. Acting as a pillar of strength to her younger siblings following the arrest, prolonged legal battle and final imprisonment of her father. Yet not a single bitter word came on her lips during the entire consultation.

What gave her the strength to bear the cross of so many misfortunes? Was it her Catholic upbringing which made her remain in a dysfunctional marriage as divorce is frowned upon? She was afraid of the disapproval of others including her parents. However when she finally divorced her husband, her father expressed a sigh of relief. Was it the meditation which she learnt during her frequent incarcerations in hospital as a child. We are complex beings and our beliefs are a result of so many influences, myriad teachings, experiences and upbringing. It is hard to single out one factor or one influence as the formative one.

Standing outside someone’s life, their struggles and heart ache,  we sometimes are tempted to be critical of their choices and condemn them for putting up with hardship and violence  for such long periods. However unless we have walked in their shoes for a few miles, stumbled and risen, developed callouses and accepted them, how can we pass judgement on their choices. To each soul it’s own path! All we can do is to keep our eyes and hearts open, our minds clear and our ears receptive. Then we will be able to recognize the saints that walk among us and learn compassion and patience from them!