Sunday, August 31, 2014

Denying yourself can be a source of joy

Strange as it may seem, there is quiet satisfaction in denying oneself. It is self-control or self-discipline in its purest form. It means relinquishing our selfish wants and desires, the capacity to say no to the things we think we need or want.

Not surprisingly, our mind is trained to do just the opposite—crave for things, hanker after stuff that we don't need or use. We do this almost every day of our lives, whether it is in a restaurant where we order more than we can eat or in a shop where we buy more than we actually need. Anything in excess is harmful. It bores a gaping hole right through our psyche and our pockets.

Mahatma Gandhi was perceptive when he said, “There is enough for everyone's need but not enough for everyone's greed.” What he meant was that, while we have enough, we never have enough, do we? He is telling us to deny ourselves and learn to say no.

Let’s take a familiar scenario. The next time you go to a buffet dinner, don’t tuck into every dish that you see, like it was your last meal. Serve only as much as you are going to eat. Don't heap your plate with food. Chances are you will waste it and if you don't feel like a glutton, you will certainly look like one.

Saying no to ourselves can be a good thing, and profitable too, as this real anecdote shows.

A young man once went into a bookstore and came across a hardbound book he had been planning to buy. The price was Rs.450, around $8. He picked it up and was about to pay for it when he asked himself, "Do I really need this book? Won't I find it in an used bookstore at a much lower price?”

After all, Rs.450 was good money that could be used to buy something more valuable. He put it back on the shelf. A week later, he found a near-mint edition of the book in a secondhand bookstall for Rs.125 ($2). Sometimes, self-denial pays off in more ways than we know.

Life provides us with enough opportunities to exercise restraint in the face of temptation. Saying ‘no’ is not just about sacrificing or rejecting something, like eating one slice of cake instead of two or buying one shirt in place of two or taking public transport instead of the car or offering the only empty seat on the bus to a fellow passenger. It is also a good habit, not to mention a healthy and positive way of life.

Saying no is winning the battle. Saying no and having no regrets later is winning the war. The mystics assure us there is more peace and contentment in self-denial than in self-indulgence. The latter invariably results in excess and regret. It is a sort of renunciation that helps us regulate our life and for our own good.

Bottom line: first learn to say no to yourself before you say no to others.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

How long? A poem by Ramabai C. Trikannad

Ramabai C. Trikannad, my late grandmother, was a writer, columnist, poet, and a deeply spiritual woman. She read a lot. Classics were her favourite. She wrote about family life and parenting in newspapers in the mid-20th century. One of her columns was called Cat 'N' Bells. She also published a book of short stories called Victory of Faith and Other Stories, 1935. I have most of her published and unpublished writings including a hardback of her short story collection. Once in a while I read her poems and stories and what she said more than half a century ago resonates with me even today. How Long? is one of her poems that I like very much. 

Inconsistent, changing — weary yet restless —
We dance to the rhythm of nature.
Hoping, fearful — lest we lose them —
We try to hold and keep the things
Our fancy rests upon.
We strive and strive — not towards the Eternal —
But for the empty shows of life.
Thus, while in silence Mother smiles and watches over us,
We jostle and struggle on.

In some quiet hour
The heart draws back from all the world.
Whence — to where? To what purpose
This fruitless, aimless hurry and rush?
How long before delusion is destroyed and freedom gained?
For a moment, for a single moment,
Before the mind drops again
Into the ever intricating web of fancies and desires,
From the solitude of the heart
Comes the cry: “O Mother! How long?”

© Ramabai C. Trikannad

Friday, August 22, 2014

#1 Five ways to beat stress and anxiety

1. Every now and then let out a deep sigh, loosen up your muscles, and let go. As you do this drop your head and rest your chin on your chest, slump your shoulders, and let your arms hang freely by your side. Breathe slowly and effortlessly. You will soon feel relaxed.

2. Let your words and thoughts be positive. The best way to ensure this is to immediately substitute every negative word and thought with a positive one. As Norman Vincent Peale says, “I found that the best way to eliminate them (the little negatives) was deliberately to say a positive word about everything.” It is not easy but it can be done. There is joy and satisfaction even in practice.

3. Go for a long drive but make sure you are behind the wheel. Contrary to opinion, driving relieves stress because you are so busy concentrating on the road ahead that you have no time to think about yourself or your problems. It works for me. Just drive safely.

4. Have an obsessive goal. Making a pot of money is an excellent objective. The more you see in the bank, the better you will feel. But don’t let your obsession come between you and your other priorities, like your family.

5. “To hell with it. Whatever happens, happens!” Say this to yourself loudly and with conviction every time you feel stressed or anxious. It will help you shake off your worries and move on to something that truly deserves your attention. After all, what has to happen will happen in spite of your best efforts to prevent it. This is what mystics tell us.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Alphabet Quotes: I is for Integrity

"Never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what's right."
— Isaac Asimov

"My grandfather once told me that there are two kinds of people: those who work and those who take the credit. He told me to try to be in the first group; there was less competition there."
— Indira Gandhi

"Goodness is the only investment that never fails."
— Henry David Thoreau

"Before I can live with other folks I've got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience."
— Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

"Integrity is not a conditional word. It doesn't blow in the wind or change with the weather. It is your inner image of yourself, and if you look in there and see a man who won't cheat, then you know he never will."
— John D. MacDonald

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Excess baggage

Your life is so little and insignificant in the infinite and unfathomable scheme of the universe that there is just not enough space for the excess baggage you lug around with you, as if your very survival depended on it. You insist on taking it with you wherever you go. Each of your bags has an ominous tag—anger, rage, hatred, resentment, pride, greed, insensitivity, selfishness, apathy, and insecurity. There is just one problem: there is no one around to help you carry them. You know why? Because nearly everyone else is carrying the same amount of excess baggage as you do. And no one wants to dump them and become truly free.

The ten extra large bags do you so much harm you scarcely realise it, each one pulling you down into an abyss, causing you the mental equivalent of physical paralysis. This is no life.

Why are you reluctant to offload your excess baggage? What are you afraid of that you should cling to the very things that make you unhappy and self-destructive? What are you trying to prove? More importantly, what are you hiding under? A false sense of security, perhaps. If that were the case you would have been happy with yourself and at peace with others, but you know you are not.

So why not replace these bags, which are draining out all your mental and physical energies and making you a bitter and nasty person that others run away from, with a new set of bags that take you in the other direction, where you are a better person and where others like being around you.

The new tags on your ten brand new bags should ideally read calmness, understanding, love, acceptance, humility, generosity, concern, selflessness, compassion, and self-assurance.

Unlike the negative baggage you carry about with you and which absolutely no one wants, anyone would be willing to give you a hand with your new bags. Just try passing them around and see what happens—you will be surprised how many people come forward to take them out of your hands and carry them for you, happily and cheerfully—because that is how they see you. Get a real life.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The way to healthy sleep

One of the things that should come naturally to you but often does not is sleep. Not sound sleep, just sleep, something you take for granted as soon as you rest your tired head on your pillow. But at times sleep can be as elusive as the sight of a wish-making falling star in the night sky. You lie awake in bed tossing this way and that way, your anger and anxiety at your inability to fall asleep mounting with each dreadful minute. You wish the clock would stop ticking for it is like a time bomb, a reminder of the approaching dawn that you don’t want to see. Every few minutes you reach under your pillow and look at your watch or reach for the alarm clock on your bedside table. In both dials, time is flying and so is your frustration. As you lie awake in the dark, you envy the rest of the sleeping household. You want to wake up someone and share your nocturnal misery. At one point you feel like getting out of the bed and starting your day really early, actually feeling good when you think about it, but you know you can’t do that at 2 am. Everyone is still fast asleep—lucky people. 

Your problem is that the more you worry about not getting sleep, the more you are fighting sleep and the less likely you are of falling asleep. As with most things in life, resistance is futile when it comes to sleep. The key is to accept it and to remember you are not the only one who is having a nerve-wracking sleepless night. Most people agonise over sleep and the lack of it, some more frequently than others. For a lot of people sleeplessness is a serious and chronic issue. It can ruin your night and make your next day worse even before you launch into it.

Can you do something about it? Yes, you can. Something can be done about almost anything if you set your mind to it. 

The best place to start is to let go of your restless, wakeful situation. Accept that you are unable to sleep. It is not as if someone is torturing you with sleep deprivation. Be positive, however insensitive it may sound in the circumstances. Tell yourself that your day has stretched just a bit more into the night and that you are going to nod off eventually. The fact is you do nod off eventually, even if it is in the wee hours of the morning, out of sheer exhaustion than anything else. If your mind won’t put you to sleep, your body will sooner or later.

The rest of these hints to help you to sleep, even sleep well, can be applied without any order, depending on what suits you, and how comfortable you are with it. 

My own preferred remedy is a yogic posture called Shavasana, in Sanskrit, which means Corpse Pose. It is a relaxation technique, a state of rest, and is the culmination of all yogic asanas, or exercises. It is always done in the end. I like to think of it as dropping dead. 

Lie flat on your back with your eyes closed. Rest your head on a flat pillow. Keep both your hands straight and a little away from your body, palms upward. Likewise, keep both your legs straight and apart, toes pointing upward. In so doing, if your fingers curl up or your toes twitch, naturally, it means you are beginning to relax.

For some time breathe normally but gently. Don’t hold your breath or keep count. Let your thoughts come and go. Don’t resist them or react to them. Don’t chant any mantra or spiritual word or phrase. Try and keep your mind still. 

Shavasana always begins from the feet up. So first turn your attention to your feet, one at a time, and mentally loosen up your toes, your sole, your feet, and your ankle. Tell yourself that you are relaxing each part. Picture it as you go along. Wiggle your feet and toes slowly, if you like.

In this way slowly work your way upwards, to your shin, your knee, your thigh, your hip, and eventually to your entire leg. Mentally picture the stress and stiffness leaving both your legs and your feet. 

Don’t rush through it.

You then move upwards, to each part of your body, again one at a time, all the way up to your head, your brain, and your mind. Follow the same process as you did with your feet. Don’t forget to picture yourself relaxing every part, every muscle, and letting go. Say it in your mind.

Finally, relax your whole body in exactly the same manner. See clearly, in your mind’s eye, the tension slowly leaving your body. 

As you come to the end of the asana or yogic posture, which should take no more than fifteen minutes, you will feel relaxed and sleepy. If you don’t fall asleep instantly, don’t worry. Just turn on your side. Over time and with practice you will drift off into sleep. 

The important thing to remember during practice is not to exert pressure or become tense or feel burdened. It defeats the purpose the moment you do. 

Shavasana can be practiced any time, even if you don’t have a problem sleeping. It simply helps you to relax. It is nothing but meditation in a reposed state.

This is my way and it works for me. You can devise your own variation of this asana. Do what suits you best. You may consult a yoga teacher if you like.

There are other remedies that can help you to sleep, like taking a walk after dinner or supper, drinking a warm glass of plain milk before bedtime, taking a hot bath or shower, reading a funny book or watching a funny movie, listening to soothing music, giving up smoking, exercising or gymming, reducing caffeine and alcohol, hugging a loved one in bed. These are mostly short-term measures and while they may sound commonplace, they can be effective. 

More specifically, Shavasana should top a twelve-point list of sleep cures that will last longer, perhaps a lifetime. The other eleven are: 

Never go to bed angry. Never have a fight or an argument before bedtime—swallow your pride and make up. It is worth the effort.

Don’t think or brood about how your day went or what happened in the office or wherever—it is never really that important. 

Meditate or chant a mantra either silently or just loud enough for you to hear—it works as well as Shavasana.

Spend time with your family and feel loved and secure in their company—no one else will make you feel as good as they do.

Take LOL out of your SMS and actually Laugh Out Loud—it is still the best medicine around.

Put your mobile phone away. Switch off your computer. Stay away from the internet—cease to be a gadget man at least an hour before sleep time. 

Try not to worry over your past and your future—you have enough going in your present.

Don’t read or watch depressing news in the papers or on television—it can actually make you feel depressed and even give you nightmares. 

Take a few slow or deep breaths before hitting the pillow—it will help take a load off your mind and loosen up your muscles. 

Always pray before you go to bed—you could do a lot worse than underestimate its healing power.

Utter a deep sigh, as many times as you like—and just let go.

If you don’t like any of these, you can invent your own ways, so long as you learn to sleep, and sleep really well.