Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Defeating and Decoding Anxiety

I am writing this in the earnest hope that the content of this piece comes of use to those out there who have faced or continue to face the onslaught of anxiety and related disorders.  
People who suffer from anxiety do not have it easy. Anxiety disorder may take many forms, from mild to severe in intensity . Anxiety disorders plague an increasingly huge percentage of the world's population today and take forms such as generalised anxiety disorder, specific phobias, obsessive compulsive disorder and panic attacks. These manifestations sometimes severely damage a person's ability to lead a normal life.
Anxiety and its many forms debilitate in ways that can cripple the sufferer and condemn him to a very restricted and confined existence in more ways than one.   In order to overcome anxiety, we need to first understand how it works.... physiologically and physiologically. Then we must understand our unique brand of anxiety - the unique way anxiety manifests in each of us, including the triggers, the way our mind and body react, signs and symptoms etc. Then we must formulate our strategy based on our general understanding of anxiety and how it works. Lastly, we must implement the strategy with will-power, persistence and commitment.   

How it all began
Anxiety is actually a healthy human instinct. It was designed by nature to protect us from danger and threat to our lives.... conditions that existed when we were apes, living in caves and constantly facing the threat of a wild animal attack or of an unexpected natural calamity. These were conditions over which we didn't have control. What we mean by anxiety is nothing but a set of signals that our brain, the amygdala to be more precise, sends to our body when it senses danger of any sort. When these signalsare received by the body, a set of physiological changes kick in, roughly referred to as the 'fight or flight' response. Again, this response was designed to help us fight the attacking wild animal, or flee from the place of danger. On release of adrenalin, the heart starts to pump faster, getting ready to supply more blood for the fight or the run; the lungs breathe in more air, our muscles become tense and our digestion slows as blood is diverted away from the stomach to the large muscles and the brain. All these responses were apt and necessary in the ape age.  
But things are different today. Anxiety has fast arisen as a psychological and partly physiological condition needing treatment in many of us today, sometimes unfortunately with medication. The reason is that the anxiety response mechanism that was appropriate earlier is now experienced by us today, in a day and age when there are no wild animals chasing us and we have safe, secure homes protecting us from a storm or any such danger. Our anxieties today arise from things unrelated to raw survival and have been sublimated into anxieties of the workplace, of time deadlines and family pressures. These trigger off our outdated anxiety response.

What makes it difficult
Unfortunately, this is not a simple problem. Since the anxiety response of the brain is so deeply ingrained and is intertwined so closely with our survival instinct, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to shut it off at will. The switch on switch off mechanism of the anxiety response is instinctive, and worse still, gets reinforced with habit. So people suffering from anxiety disorders feel helpless and resort to medication.   But the problem with medication is that the body gets addicted to artificial chemicals to keep calm and reverts to its anxious behaviour soon after medication is discontinued. So, resorting to medication is only a temporary relief, not a lasting cure for the problem.
I have myself been through extremely anxious phases in my life which triggered a temporary but debilitating anxiety disorder characterised by panic attacks, food addictions and agoraphobia. I have known people who have chronic anxiety too.   Anxiety disorder manifests in each sufferer very differently. Some people develop phobias of specific things, like open spaces or closed spaces, of crowds, of darkness etc. Some others develop obsessive habits like repeating a ritual many times before they leave their homes. Some others resort to food as a comforting factor and become addicted to sugars or carbohydrates. Some others have phobia of social situations, some take to addictions. These are just coping strategies for intense fears triggered deep within.

The path to defeating Anxiety
In an effort to find a medication-free solution to this problem, I researched for many years and myself experimented with many techniques. I was very heartened to discover for myself that there is a way to reverse the inappropriate anxiety response pattern characterising anxiety disorders. Without medication! It worked for me and has, as I have come to understand now, helped countless anxiety sufferers out there in the world. Simple techniques that are powerful and effective and when followed with persistence and effort, can slowly and surely change the mechanism of anxiety response in our minds and eventually our brain.
Given below are what I believe to be extremely effective means to overcome and defeat our anxiety disorder ourselves!

Step 1
Understand your anxiety response. Put them down in a diary. What triggers your anxiety? How does it manifest? Do stressful situations at work set off the anxiety response? Or is it certain specific situations or interaction with certain people? Is it being in a certain kind of place - for example crowded places, lifts, open spaces etc? What are the manifestations of your anxiety - what are the physical sensations you feel? Does your heart race? Do you feel the need to vomit? Do you feel faint? How about emotional manifestations - do you feel vulnerable, sensitive and touchy? Do you feel like avoiding crowds? Do you express your anxiety through nervous and fidgety body behaviour? Do you feel easily suspicious? Do you feel a sense of impending doom? Do you feel suicidal? Do you become obsessive? Do you stuff yourself with food or go hungry for long periods? Do you have surreal experiences like feeling detached from your body or a dream-like floating feeling? What fears do you have about your body and your safety? Do you become hypochondriacal?   No matter what you feel , however weird or bizarre your symptoms may seem to you, watch them and try your best to not judge! Accept it and understand that you are a normal human being whose anxiety response has become a bit hypersensitive... That's all! KEEP TELLING YOURSELF THAT! You can develop an ability to understand your anxiety response better if you meditate, or at least spend some time in silence just observing yourself. Some people take the help of an external party like a friend or a counsellor to help them with this.  

Step 2
Once you've identified how your anxiety manifests, you can begin the work of reversing your mind's, and consequently your brain's,behavior pattern. Take a notepad and note down how your anxiety is debilitating you and how different you would want your life to be from what it is? For example if you have agoraphobia or fear of open spaces, you may write 'My fear of open spaces stops me from enjoying going out with my friends to the beach'. Follow this up with a powerfully positive statement expressing your desire. For example ' I would like to be able to go a pristine beach and lie down and enjoy the vastness of the sky'. What this exercise does is shows you two points - the point where you are at and the point where you want to be. It gives you a clear goal and clear aim. What it also does is that it turns something currently negative to something positive in the future. Like they say, darkness can be removed only with light. Similarly negative forces can be nullified only by positive ones.  

Step 3
 Resolve to challenge each of your anxious behaviour patterns one by one, slowly and surely. Remember that while doing this, you need to keep you goals small and achievable initially. And celebrate every time you succeed. For example, a person who feels dizzy every time he has to take a flight has to first tell himself, “This is just a symptom of inappropriate anxiety. This time, when I fly, I will ignore the dizziness, and the moment I feel better, I will find one thing I can do on the plane that gives me pleasure.' The pleasurable thing can be as simple a thing as eating your favorite snack or solving a puzzle or playing a game on your laptop or phone. If you are a person who gets a panic attack in crowded places, say to yourself, “I am brave for facing my fear of crowded places.I am not alone in my fears, and anxiety is something many people in the world are familiar with. Instead of feeling defeated, I will smile and go on to have a great day after my panic attack!”And when you manage to do this, celebrate by telling yourself “I am a step closer to getting rid of my anxiety!”. When you habituate your mind in small doses to what it fears, the hold of the fear loosens. Also remember to motivate yourself with some reward for facing your fears. But remember to take it slow and easy and do this in small steps.  

 Step 4
 Learn healthy coping techniques. Your anxiety symptoms are just inappropriate, ineffective coping mechanisms of your mind. Teach your mind and body better ways to cope. Some effective techniques of coping with symptoms of anxiety are listed below.  
 1. Diversion .... Use powerful diversion techniques to draw your mind away from anxiety. A compelling game, a movie, talking to a friend, shopping, and so on. Identify what distracts you most effectively when you are panicking or are anxious and use that technique. Remember that the technique should be one that draws you FULLY into it and COMPLETELY distracts your mind. Half hearted distractions will not do the trick.  
2. Exercise .... Exercise is a great way to tackle anxiety both physically and mentally. Physically, it uses up the excess adrenalin produced and releases muscle tension. Mentally, during exercise, the brain releases feel-good chemicals like dopamine and endorphins that remove pain and give you feelings of pleasure - a very welcome change from the nerves of an anxiety attack. You could also take dancing lessons and dance away your anxiety!  
3. Music.... Singing, playing an instrument or even listening to your favorite music can be a powerfully effective anti-anxiety technique. Sincewe become self involved and inward-looking during an anxiety spell, music helps you engage with something outside of yourself. While singing or listening to familiar favorite songs, one is drawn into the music and away from anxiety. Familiar songs also trigger happy memories which in turn release feel-good hormones.  
4. People .... Having people around, family, friends, even close colleagues or any group of people you like and trust, has an ability to make you feel secure and protected, even if it is not a conscious feeling. To take an analogy from the animal world, it is what a cub or a baby elephant feels when it is with its pride or herd. Since we feel vulnerable and unprotected like babies, when we are anxious, being around people instills a feeling of comfort and security. Of course, sometimes it can feel claustrophobic to be around people when one is having a panicor an anxiety attack. Nevertheless, as a general rule, try to develop a circle of people who know your problem and who you can trust - people who know you enough to give you the space you need while still providing comfort and security from a distance. In the long term, the security of loving people goes a long way in reducing the anxiety response.  
5. Healthy food.... Treat your body to a sumptuous and a healthy meal with lots of fruits, vegetables, proteins and the appropriate amount of fats and carbohydrates. Drink copious amounts of water. Don't go hungry for long periods, since some physiological conditions like hypoglycemia and dehydration worsen feelings of anxiety. Hormonal imbalances can also give you anxious feelings. So keep your health in check and make sure you get treated in case you have any physiological factor exacerbating your anxiety condition.
  6. Meditation.... Meditation is an excellent way to both still and calm your mind and body and also do some powerful observing and introspection at the same time. It might be difficult to meditate at the same time you're having an anxiety or panic attack, in which case, you can allow the panic to settle using one of the other techniques listed above and then sit to meditate. The insights you will learn about yourself in a meditative state will go a long way in understanding your anxiety intelligently, tackling it and finally defeating it.  

Never Forget!

 While following the above steps towards recovery from anxiety disorders, keep the following in mind always!  
1. Anxiety disorder in most cases is not a disease... It is just a hypersensitive survival instinct manifesting as a psychological and physiological response. Repeating anxious behavior becomes a habit of your brain and mind.
 2. Panic attacks and anxiety bouts, however intense they may feel, cannot harm you or kill you! They are just natural defence mechanisms of the mind which have been reset to a lower than average threshold levels.
3. Anxiety cannot really be cured with medication. Medication may only temporarily control the chemical imbalance in the brain resulting from anxious behavior. True recovery can happen only with the person's desire, will and persistence.
4. Anxiety disorder CAN be reversed with conscious, powerful behavioural change.
5. Even though reversing the anxiety response of the mind and brain takes time and persistence, such an effort is richly rewarded with an almost complete, and in many cases permanent, freedom from anxiety disorder.
6. Behaviour patterns and thoughts that feed anxiety make it more deeply entrenched. Overindulging anxiety by over-analysing and over-researching your condition can derail or slow down your recovery.
 7. Anything negative can be removed only something powerfully positive. Anxiety disorder can be corrected only with the positive forces of hope, laughter, happiness, love, acceptance and inspiration.  
What I have said above has proved very effective in tackling and even reversing anxiety for myself and also, as I have discovered, for countless others. These are people who have, in one way or the other, knowingly or unknowingly, used the above techniques to tackle and defeat their anxiety condition.  
Do not consider your fight against anxiety a dreary journey but rather a journey towards a fuller and a happier life! Good luck!

Chipping Away (Appeared in the October 2013 issue of 'Life Positive' , a wellness magazine)

We've all heard of the tortoise and hare story and so did I when I was a kid. While it is not possible for such a story to have a particularly profound impact on a 5 yr old, it is still a story among those that none of us can forget. It is now almost decades later and now the powerful wisdom behind this story is beginning to unravel itself to me.

 I was quite lazy as a kid. Never liked school, hated homework, loved to play and had loads of friends. I always studied for my exams just days before and managed a decent percentage, that's all. Never had a fascination for ranks and grades. My report card every year had the same comment... 'intelligent but disorganised. Needs to learn to be consistent and work hard'. I could never relate to students who could put in disciplined work every single day just to make that 1st rank or to top a particular subject. My days seemed blissful when I kept myself innured from tension, worry and the hard work that achievement required.

It was not until years later that a sudden sadness started to creep in. I couldn't explain it. It would hit me every morning in the wee hours and would either keep me awake or spoil the quality of my sleep. The reason I would tell myself was something mundane like the stress of a meeting coming up or fear that my boss would yell at something. But over time I began to realise it might be to do with something specific and something deep. The sadness and heaviness,  I came to realise , had a lot more to it. One of the facets of the sadness I came to understand, was a lurking feeling of guilt along with a feeling of envy at others who managed to achieve things I knew I was capable of but didn't care enough to strive towards in my younger years.

 Guilt is a devilish thing you know, especially if it concerns something you've done to yourself. It eats away like acid , burning and devouring all that feels good. Over time, it pervades everything inside and turns like undigested food into a feeling of queasiness, unease and anxiety. It simultaneously turns outward becoming jealousy, anger, unhealthy  introvertedness. worst of all, to protect our ego and falling self concept, we create within ourselves, an illusion of ourselves as perfect human beings and take it upon ourselves to judge and belittle others and trivialize success and achievements of people we envy inside. I am thankful that I caught myself well before things deteriorated so much but it is important to know how bad things can get.

 The moment of realisation came to me thanks to a simple incident that happened years ago. Music was a part of my life from my age of five. It runs in my family and I was spotted quite young by my school as a child who had talent. My parents and my school gave me immense encouragement. I won many prizes and scholarships through my early years. But as with studies and most other things at that time, the same lackadaisical attitude pervaded music too.I would sit for riyaz very reluctantly and after much coercing by my mother. While I never ever abandoned music learning, there were long periods of disconnect with my classes. I would be put off for months before I could muster up the will to resume. Since, music, as  I have come to believe, is so deeply entrenched in me, I couldn't ever abandon it fully, and I thank providence for that. Anyway, years passed and I kept chugging along with my classes and concerts and competitions but never really achieving what I could've by that age. I would always look at achievements as huge mountains to climb and somehow all that seemed too much of an effort. I felt I didn't have it in me to climb that high or that steep. I felt defeated far before even trying.

A turning point came  when I moved cities after marriage. I had the good fortune of meeting my guru. It was one of those classes to which I had gone in with the same reluctance to learn. Within minutes of starting the session, I got talking heart to heart with her. I knew i couldn't disguise my mood for too long. During the course of the conversation my guru began to understand that I had not given music what I ought to have and I was far from where I could be. After the class, I went back home and continued with my day's routine. Not long after, I received a message from my guru, a message that was to change my life. It said 'Nithya, remember this, if you don't do what you have to do with your music, there will be a day when you will feel a sharp dagger in your heart!'

 Something about that message both scared me and made me thankful at the same time. It scared me because somewhere deep inside I knew the truth behind that message. I was thankful because it seemed to have come at the right time. Any earlier, it wouldn't have had an impact, any later would've been too late.

 It is then, that I embarked on a self realisation and improvement journey. One by one, I began to undo old bad habits. I would challenge every lazy bone inside me. I would drag myself to classes and enforced strict disciple on myself with Riyaz. I chipped away at every aspect of my personality that held me back, that threatened to destroy me, to make me incompetent and mediocre. Every fear, every anxiety that held me back was not allowed to have its way without a war inside, which I eventually started winning more often than losing. Slowly and surely my Riyaz started getting more disciplined and more focussed, I started treating myself and others more gently, becoming less critical and more compassionate. I kept small targets and taught myself to celebrate small successes. I started taking every big task just by the day and sometimes by the hour.

 Over time, I realised it actually just takes small bits and chips done every day with commitment and discipline to build anything big.  When i think about this even on hindsight, it seems to prove true. Even though i had done it unknowingly, the fact that I had kept music going despite not giving it active attention has over the years made a huge difference to my musical ability and I feel reflects in my music today. Big things actually start small. Things like career, marriage, a home, a life seem like huge tasks But, it is chipping away with active persistence, diligence at the small things every day, along with an ability to be patient and compassionate that can take us miles and help us climb very high.

 I started realising that I was beginning to have what people will define today as a successful life. And it all seemed to happen relatively effortlessly.  A career that I am passionate about, a happy marriage, a wonderful relationship with my parents and in laws to name a few. The funny thing is that I realise. is that things seem to happen when you're busy not focussing on the outcome.....it's quite amazing how deeply powerful the words in bhagavat gita are 'karmanye vadhika raste ma phaleshu kadachana' translating to' one has right only over one's efforts not over its fruits'.

When one understands this fully and from the heart one begins to shift focus from desire for a particular type of outcome. He or she learns to just live in the present, live by the day. He learns that fruits will come effortlessly if the focus is on what has to be done.

I've learnt an invaluable lesson thanks to that life changing message. For that I'll be ever grateful to my guru. Making something out of one's life doesn't have to be painful. It will certainly be effortful. But the trick in making it as effortless as possible is to learn the art of doing small things little by little , day by day and learning the art of celebrating.

 Great things I realised happen when...

 You're busy chipping away!

The Role of Pain (appeared in the Nov 2013 issue of 'Life Positive' a wellness magazine)

The word pain is so all encompassing. When we hear the word 'Pain', it evokes in our minds a whole gamut of unpleasant associations, right from physical pain to the poetic 'pain of living' , also referred to by some poets and writers as 'existential angst'. Whatever the association we choose at any point in time, it kindles in our minds and bodies, myriad uneasy sensations. ‘Pain’ in any form,  is something we would rather do without. Something we avoid like the plague. And yet, deep inside we know, it is a profound life reality we cannot wish away.

Our first exposure to pain happens when, as infants, we feel hunger and thirst. As we grow, pain morphs into subtler forms. The pain of losing parents' attention to a sibling, losing a school competition, bewildering separation and pain experienced after death of a grandparent, and many such. As we move along into early adulthood, the confusing pain of separation from parents, asserting itself as temper tantrums, rebelliousness and sexual curiosity, kicks in. Then, the grueling pains of adult life start making their grand entry  with the anxiety of finding our first job or starting our careers and surviving the pressures of competition and performance to earn our living. For some people, pain could enter earlier, with having to fend for ailing and poor parents or family. It could enter with having to deal with more complex problems like abuse or rape.  In some unfortunate extreme cases,  pain can unfairly hit children in a manner that damages irreversibly, their ability to lead normal lives. Aas life goes on, pain just keeps getting more and more complex and sometimes comes in power packed doses leaving us feeling completely sapped and drained not to mention defeated, singled out, alone, helpless and vulnerable.

 Most people deal with pain, either by trying their best to avoid it, and if they cannot, by drowning it in disproportionate and crude forms of pleasure. Unfortunately, these temporary solutions only bury pain. Buried pain festers inside until much later, it regurgitates and surfaces, this time far more difficult to deal with.  Ask alcoholics anonymous or the ex drug addict whether their addiction truly helped them. Ask people suffering from uncontrolled promiscuity whether they are deeply fulfilled or happy. AllIn all these cases one thing is common, they have not dealt with pain… not really. They have avoided it or tried to suppress it . We all have this tendency! It is only a matter of degree that separates us.

 So how does one understand and come to terms with Pain? How does one make peace with the effect it has on us? Do we go about trying to minimise it, or is does the solution lie in trying to look at it differently?  
Let me explore the answer with some personal experiences.

Pain has come to me in forms less severe than what I sometimes see around. But since we are dealing with the nature of pain and not its intensity or form, I will use my example. The way pain first came into my life is quite paradoxical. I'll start by saying that till early adulthood, I could never recall instances of having ever felt pain! It didn't strike me as strange till much later. It was strange because it is impossible for a human being to not remember any painful episodes from childhood or early adulthood. It is impossible, because one cannot pass through life and get to adulthood without ever feeling the pinch of some form of difficulty or the other. Growing up is always painful. So why did I remember things differently? To find my answers I embarked on a quest.  I began with exploring my childhood. With my parents' help,  I tried to get colour of how my childhood was. I wanted to see if I had had a particularly trouble-free childhood. But on digging, I realised that I had gone through the typical pains of childhood, physically for sure, with measles, mumps, typhoid and malaria doing their rounds interspersed with viral fevers and flus. So there was definitely physical pain.
What about emotional?  Well, I did seem to have been spared the pain of sibling difficulties being a single child but other pains should've have been there. I went to a competitive school with a lot of classmates and peers, so it can't have been without its share of downs. My parents hailed from a typical middle-class economic background so there was a restraint on the finances. We lived in a modest home with the usual banes of middle class living. So, nothing there. My life seemed to have been a normal one which must've meant normal pains of life and growing up. But why didn't I remember feeling anything?

The answer to this came to me much later in life. It was when marriage, relocation and career change brought me to a point from where, the experience of pain was to start presenting itself to me the very first time. (Do notice I used the phrase 'experience of pain' rather than the word 'pain' itself). It came in a bad way. I started to have severe bouts of anxiety and panic and developed agoraphobia (an extreme fear of exposure to the outside world). My life was looking dreary at that point. My career shattered and my health ruined. With come external help and a steely determination  to not allow my life to go down this path, I began to put effort into understanding what I was going through. My introspection and exploration led me to a gold mine! I came to understand that my condition had occurred because of having avoided and turned away from the healthy pains of growing up. A powerful understanding of our  reaction and response to pain dawned on me!

   Since pain in any form is unpleasant, we don't like it. We don't welcome it and sometimes, like I realized was true in my case, we don't allow ourselves to experience it or feel it. We live in denial of it and try and minimize any event or circumstance that might bring us close to it. It then ends up accumulating till when it piles up so much that you can't run away from it anymore. This tendency to avert pain, even constructive pain is so common that you don't have to go very far from home to find it.
In my eagerness to understand this better, I started to observe people closely. The more I looked, the more of this phenomenon I found.
 It starts with simple things. People know exercise is good for the body but don't want to take the pain and effort to be healthy and end up with serious diseases later in life. Diabetics would much rather take dessert followed by an extra dose of medication rather than go through the effort and pain of restraint. People would much rather hold on to their ego rather than pursue compassion or truth because giving up one's ego is much too painful. Overgrown adults who live off parents would much rather not face the pain of separation and independence. We'd much rather follow the herd than give vent to our individuality because we cannot risk the pain of judgment or rejection.

Pain actually, I've come to realise, unpleasant as it might be, usually masks an opportunity to grow.... in body, mind and spirit. It is an opportunity to overcome those obstacles that actually stand in the way of us finding a truly fulfilling and happy life. Even more serious forms of pain that visit us uninvited like a sickness, financial difficulty or emotional loss usually leave us wiser, humbled and thankful. We've heard copious stories of people who've come back from near-death experiences, more capable of genuinely living life than others. Peace, contentment and happiness cannot be found in the absence of pain . It is in fact learnt through pain. In facing, dealing with and learning from pain we become stronger, resilient, independent and creative. We become compassionate and centered and most importantly, happy!

We must start with, accepting and feeling pain when it enters our lives. Then, keenly observe what it does. What feelings does it evoke? Anger, resentment, envy, helplessness or vulnerability? What is our pattern of dealing with these feelings when they surface? Do we use a subordinate, spouse or maid as a pin cushion or a projecting screen? How does our self image change when we face pain?  Do we see ourselves as weak, cowardly and helpless or do we hide behind a facade of perfection . Do we become hyper critical or cynical? ..... The important thing through this process is not to judge but just observe and develop awareness. When we are aware, we are creating a filter between our feelings and ourselves and also between our feelings and our actions.

As we become progressively  more aware, we become more empowered and less helpless. We find the strength to use the objective part of our minds to find the best solution possible and we also develop the ability to feel a sense of control and stoic calm through the pain. As we achieve all this, slowly and surely, we start to see that our personality has gained new facets.... Strength, resilience, self control, will power, gratitude, humor, compassion and discipline. All, ingredients we need in ourselves, to build a happy contented life.

The take away from all this is not to solicit pain and condone oneself to a masochistic existence. But nevertheless, learning to welcome pain when it comes and knowing in our hearts, that experiencing it will leave us better off than before, is a skill we will definitely benefit from cultivating.

The role of pain is to teach, to instruct to train our body, mind and spirit to live fuller, live better and live richer

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Working with reality – From disillusionment to enlightenment

Albert Einstein, one of the greatest physicists the world has ever known, contributed immensely to his field with the Theory of Relativity. But his contribution was not just in the field of physics. His work opened up the possibility of being able to understand the universe and its reality in a multi dimensional way. By this, I mean, that his work on time and space has reminded us that somewhere, physics, spirituality and in fact most other streams of learning, actually merge at some point. It is no surprise that a lot of the world’s greats were polymaths, people with multidimensional intelligences. People whose brains knew what the universe already does…. That everything is one and from one everything is born. Leonardo Da Vinci was a painter, engineer, mathematician and musician all rolled into one.  Michelangelo, Galileo Galilei, Benjamin Franklin, Isaac Newton are some other polymaths.

We find it fascinating to read and learn about the work of greats in the science of reality. But we have considerable trouble handling reality when we encounter it in our individual lives.

Sumita (Name changed) , a girl I know, describes her life as traumatic. She complains that men with severe emotional disabilities seem to enter her life with unerring consistency. She complains that whenever she feels things starting to go well with someone, that person starts to show signs of emotional instability and the relationship eventually comes to an end. As a person well into her thirties and looking to find a life partner, she feels life is being unfair to her. Since I know Sumita reasonably well, I once took the opportunity to dig further to find out what could be going wrong. As I kept exploring, I came to see a pattern in her narration of her life in general and more specifically her personal life. I came to realize that Sumita, believed genuinely in her heart that she didn’t deserve good things. In some sense, she WANTED life to be unfair to her because that’s what she thought she deserved. Her view of the world was a place which treated her the way she deeply believed she deserved. But understandably her intellectual, logical mind kept looking at events as unfair. A person who holds this world view as ‘real’ could be perpetuating a pattern of events. It is very possible that she feels attracted only to people her intuition identifies as unstable and goes on to start something which has no future; only for it to end in the manner that validates her self-image as an undeserving person.

Another lady I know believes fervently in her heart that the world can do no bad and everyone, including one’s apparent enemies are warm, loving, guileless and forgiving people. Even if spite, malice and hatred stare her in the face, she refuses to believe it. She has a blind side to the darker aspects of human nature. While this may seem like an endearing quality on first glance, what it does, is create a person constantly pandering to others and trying to keep peace. A person who gives benefit of doubt to the other, even when grossly undeserved and has no capacity to hold her own. A simplistic and highly erroneous view of the world was the only thing tolerable for her. Her world view was a fairytale one, with no space for reality.
These are just two examples of how people choose their reality, and how sometimes this web of reality woven by them traps them in a regressed state… a place from where there is no path to growth.
Reality is something we struggle with all our lives because let’s call a spade a spade …. Facing reality is unpleasant. One would think I’m alluding only to the painful nature of reality. But what I am referring to, is the difficulty in seeing a reality different from one we want to believe in, regardless of its nature or quality. This happens for a reason. 

We all develop a paradigm for leading our lives. We begin developing this paradigm right from childhood slowly and surely. And by the time we hit our thirties, our paradigm is more or less set, like hardened clay. We may allow some changes as life moves on but largely, patterns of response remain the same,  except of course in cases where life has forced a jolt upon us. These responses are both emotional and physical…. and largely become unconscious as they set more and more with practice. 

Raman (name changed), I man I’ve known for many years has a certain pattern of response to all sales representatives who land up at his door step. He first invites them in and offers them tea. After listening to them flatteringly for sometime, he starts engaging them in a debate which quickly turns into an argument. The conversation becomes unpleasant within minutes . He ends all these meeting with hurling accusations, often alluding to their ‘dubious’ intentions… always suspecting cheat and deceit. It may well be true that there are many cheats out there looking to con an innocent buyer. But, the point I’m trying to make here, is that Raman is convinced that this is going to be the case everytime. He extends this view to many other people and situations. Raman’s world view is one that has to be, for some reason, tainted with a negative brush.  To him, no one can be trusted and everyone is deceitful. 

The realities these people have chosen for themselves, albeit unconsciously, are so comfortably nestled in their hearts and minds that an alternate reality, even if it is a happier one, would be unpleasant for them to accept. Our paradigms were built because they worked for us at certain points in time. But we continue to take that map forward into our lives and apply the same model to most life situations. The problems with this approach are obvious. If we were to continue to believe that our world works for us the same way it did when we were children or even 5 years ago, or if we don’t incorporate real changes in our life experiences into our paradigms, we are essentially attempting to push a square plug into a round socket. The result is frustration and a feeling of failure at things going wrong all the time, everywhere. The sad thing though is, people whose paradigms have failed, hold on even more tenaciously to their faulty model because they somehow twist this new reality of failure to fit their old paradigm. The bitter man believes that the world is a bitter place, spreads bitterness back, receives bitterness in return, which reinforces his view of a bitter world and he turns even more bitter. The perpetuating cycle starts all over again.

Unlike science, there may not be a fully objective reality for our individual selves to learn and believe in. Our unique lives require us to construct our own unique realities. But still, we must remember that we are prone to incorporating some misplaced, unreal and therefore unstable components when we build our life model.

 For example, Raman could do well to know that while some sales people may be deceitful, it is possible to meet an honest salesman who sells a good product that may end up being something he needs. Sumita could try to see how unreal it is to believe, that everyone out there is emotionally stunted. It is a good statistical probability that there may be many well turned out and emotionally stable men who could be consideration worthy. The na├»vely optimistic lady, who believes there is only good in the world, could do with knowing that all human beings are a mix of light and dark. A survival instinct and fighting spirit may actually be required sometimes to exist amid society and peers. 

Having said this, changing our internal reality is a job far easier said than done. Sometimes, our desire and need to hold on to our realities is so intense, that it may come in the way of this process. Nevertheless, when we start to work at first challenging our current reality we begin the work of healthy disillusionment. We begin to realize what is unreal in our picture and begin to replace it with more realistic strokes. As we begin to paint a new picture for ourselves we start to see it changing hues. It may start to become a more complex painting, with colors ranging from the lilacs and pinks of cheer and happiness to the dark burgundy of malice and evil with various other shades in the middle depicting every nuance of the mind boggling reality that life is. Yes, the painting does begin to look less simple, but it begins to look richer.

As we keep refining our understanding of our individual realities on our spiritual growth path, we begin to see a method of working with our lives in a very concrete and real way…. without escaping from it or viewing it through a broken glass. As we work with realities we would’ve been afraid to see earlier, we begin to feel a sense of living life fully. An ability to experience all shades of our life’s events in their unadulterated form, gives us a complete experience. And then, somewhere in the complex painting of different hues, we will find our color of bliss… a color born not out of delusion but out of dipping ourselves and getting wet in the ocean of life’s palette.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A song a day...

Just shut your eyes for a brief moment and imagine the world without music. I'm trying it as I write this and I'm unable to! Or rather, the experience , even if I manage it, is of extreme debilitation, of feeling crippled by blindness or by the loss of some such primary sense organ. Not surprising at all, on hindsight. Music is after all what life is really made of , if you look at it a certain way. Even if we're not actually engaging in listening to, singing or playing music it is still there- an all pervasive, awesome yet gentle force driving everything in this world.

Music can be defined as sound that is made of vibrations that are regular. These vibrations have a cyclical quality repeating a pattern in regular intervals creating a specific 'pitch' or frequency, the stuff music is made of. Well, if we were to use this definition and expand our minds we can see the all pervasiveness I referred to earlier.... Let's list just some of the many things in our life that are cyclical, regular and have a rhythm.... Day and night, the cycle of seasons, the waxing and waning of the moon, a woman's period cycle, the circle of birth, ageing and death that repeats with unerring precision to every single being on earth..... The list can go on.

To be honest I have had for a long time, till recently, a pretty linear notion of things. The belief that things usually don't go deeper or wider than they seem and most things can be explained with a simple set of logical rules! As life kept unfolding, I began to see how ridiculous I had been all the while. The world, life and its components began to seem far to complex and layered for my mind to be able to make sense. Death pervaded my otherwise cocooned existence with seeing some family members pass away. I saw suffering of so many kinds.. emotional, mental and physical. I saw chaos everywhere, in places and situations where I would've otherwise forced myself to see order. I saw loss and pain. I saw people in close circles go through financial distress. People I knew lost their children to accidents and suicide. There was pain in so many other forms less obvious and dramatic but no less traumatic.I myself went through phases when I suffered intense panic attacks and developed an eating disorder.  But, along with this distressing disillusionment came also a 'sense' of something deeper at play. And increasingly I took to reading about people's views and experiences with spirituality. I also renewed my passion for music and finally a genuinely fulfilling career started to seem possible.

Music was something I had been learning from my childhood but never took seriously enough. During the process of unlearning my old understanding of the world and learning a new one, I started to observe some striking patterns. Something that linked music to almost everything. I mean this in both a loose sense and a strict one. The former, I noticed in small everyday things. Almost everything that I found reasonably pleasant or acceptable to my ear from everyday sounds were actually musical. The mellow hum of an airconditioner, the rhythmic rattle of a ceiling fan, the almost lullaby-like beat of the heart when there is complete silence. The more profound stuff came to my mind in slow but dramatic revelations.
  I'll start with health. I found actually that I fell sick whenever my body 'cycle' went out of 'rhythm'. My body had to follow rhythmic, almost musical regularity with sleep, food and exercise for it to remain fit. Any disruptions were 'discordant' with my body and whenever my body would go out of 'sync' with my routine, I would become unwell. Exercise, something that is good for the body I found, was all about rhythm... The steady pace kept on the treadmill, the rhythmic movement during abdominal crunches, the tempo kept up during aerobic exercises. Then I started to look deeper and realised that our body is actually a musical machine! Everything is about rhythm.... The heart, digestion, sleep, sexual intercourse, bowel movements, walking etc etc!!
 Now how about the cycle of life itself? A repeating pattern with every single living thing on earth? A being is born, it grows to maturity, reproduces, ages and dies. As humans we celebrate such events in our life and have rites of passage. Our birth, growing up into adulthood(spearation from parent), marriage(mating), having kids(reproduction), retirement, growing old and our death. Whenever anyone doesn't go through these phases fully or has trouble with a phase the person faces emotional and mental dissonance . As much as we may think that we have managed to break free from this mundane, rather monotonous course, we do suffer when there is an anomaly or a discord. I can see rhythm, music and pattern now in almost all things wholesome and beautiful in life which leads me to contemplate the ever elusive answer to the question 'Why is music what it is? Why does it move us so? '
 I understand now that  music is too primal, too basic a component of existence for us to ignore. It certainly must be one of the building blocks of creation, of divinity, of god! And it is through music, I believe, that we are able to experience the divine effortlessly. Then came the curious question, if music is a slice of god, can music heal? Yes it is increasingly being believed so. Music therapy is a fast growing field. But the more profound question in my mind was, 'Can music heal us spiritually? in a way only a miracle or god can?'
  When we heal spiritually, we heal in all ways..... Intellectually, mentally, emotionally, physically. Could this therefore be the master key? A key accessible to everyone, at all times without external help. This quest has led me to have a strong hunch that it can! And I think I know when a hunch comes from deep within, like a knowing that has always been there but has come to the mind anew.

 Hmmm this is as far as I've reached in my quest. For now I sing a song a day... A small encounter with god everyday. Hopefully one day it will lead me to answers that I seek, answers that may have an impact on human evolution and growth like never before!

A song a day.....

A simple question

Just wondering where truth lies....in the heart or in the mind ?....

Consider these:

Is the mind truer when you know that a brain dead person can't even recognise his loved ones.

Is the heart truer when out of true faith a mother is able to bring her child back to life from a near fatal disease.

Is the mind truer when the more intelligent / clever /street smart guy gets the job when the guy with passion is languishing in poverty.

Is the heart truer when a man who doesn't know to swin survives the Tsunami out of sheer will to live.

Is the ability to love limited by how much we can think? Or is it the other way round?

Life forces me to debate this.... wondering if anyone has found answers....

With every dip ... (A Poem)

My first dip when I knew hunger for the first time, and a loving breast was offered to me in solace,

My second dip when I tried to walk, and learnt how to fall and how not to,

My third dip when I knew I wasn't the only one making dips,

My fourth dip when I knew that when someone smiled it wasn't necessarily because they were happy,

My fifth dip when I knew everything is not necessarily in order and doesn't follow a pattern,

My sixth dip when I knew love,

My seventh dip when I knew what I thought was love was not,

My eighth dip when I realised that dreams come true the hard way,

My ninth dip when I knew that I could dream anyway,

With every dip into the metaphorical ocean I emerge newer cleaner, wiser....

How many more dips will it take to be a child again?