The world today is a complicated place and the prospect of a peaceful, harmonious life appears tough and challenging. Our lives are laden with problems and ailments, and most of us remain disillusioned because things almost always, do not work out the way we would like them to. The normative, or what ought to be, seems to dominate and control our minds, more than the positive, that simply states, what is. In simple words, we all find unwanted things happening and we do not usually get what we want. This holds true for the entire human race, across religion, class and stature. Illnesses are more often the cause of a restless mind and all mental attitudes, which trigger disease-causing reactions inside the complex human system, and we watch helplessly as life wilts away.
But the mind is our own, it will think as we train it to. We overthink, over indulge, overanalyse, and overimagine. We attribute qualities, good or bad, to everything and every action, we pass value judgements as sermons, and often, a simple thought or deed, becomes a discord-causing phenomenon. The result – we seldom see reality as it is. The mind wanders, there is restlessness, anxiety, anger and all kinds of emotions surfacing multiple times in a day. Sometimes we are besides ourselves with anger, unable to control our fury, and at others, we want to cry out of misery, sorrow, displeasure. We are hurt by what others say, and often ourselves say horrible things to others. We raise our hands to hit, or often lash out with our tongues. And after a few minutes pass, we apologize and we are so ashamed of our actions-we had lost control, we weren’t thinking, and were driven by a manic desire to hurt. Such is human behaviour, that torments and upsets. And instead of looking for solutions within, what triggers such strong reactions, such manifestation of frustrations, we tend to blame the external environment, and attribute our outbursts to the outside world. Negatives also create sensations in our body, which appeal or repel, and even the blame game- being able to blame another, triggers an appealing sensation.
We never seem to realize that we cannot control every element beyond our physical frame, and we can only control our own reaction to situations, circumstances and incidents. Controlling reactions to the extent of becoming totally nonreactive to statements and situations is one of the toughest endeavours, requiring self-control, the ability to think and act rationally, and being mindful. This is a long journey and often takes years, since at every step, every minute of the day, things do not happen the way we want them to, and external forces act to create frenzy and anxiety. We expect wonderful things to happen, expect life to be smooth sailing, and nothing untoward happening. The culprit here, is expectation of the best and the easiest, without chaos, ripples or problems, a craving for the joyful, and an aversion for the unpleasant. Expectations reflect a mind set that is far removed from reality. Somehow the concepts of good and bad entrenched deeply, impact our thinking and make us expect. The words -I wish, I hope, I pray, I want…are all manifestations of our expectations which define our actions and activities, not to mention being “I” focused.
The end result is a turbulent mind, restless and searching for solutions to life’s problems, a search for peace, calm and contentment. The search lands people in religious pursuits, chanting and praying, visiting shrines, temples, mosques and churches, joining cults, following new age gurus, reading and finding intellectual explanations, in the real physical world that we exist. Dogmatic rituals, chanting of hymns, idol worship, are often instilled early in life and we tend to blindly follow them, without ever questioning their use, validity, need or purpose. Many have deep religious beliefs and others treat prayer and worship as an insurance policy that can be encashed. Perhaps we lack that faith in ourselves and feel the need to have some thread to hold on to, some faith that will tide us through difficult times, and are convinced that prayers help us achieve our goals. Despite all this, the majority is not able to find the elusive peace and contentment.
We go about the business of living, frantically running, ticking activities off a long list, and end up with physical exhaustion and are mentally drained. The mind is on what we call ‘a short fuse’, reacting strongly at the slightest provocation, switching off from the current task at hand, flitting from one issue to the next, and not managing to do justice to any, least of all to its own self.
A mind at peace, not in turmoil, composure and calm demeanour at all times, unaffected by pain or suffering -is the ultimate human goal. But the trials and tribulations of daily life prevent us from achieving this and we find ourselves stressed and agitated, sleepless and restless, unable to focus, even as we invite lifestyle diseases to plague us internally.
Introspecting individuals while searching for solutions, and exploring avenues that will help them find peace and contentment, realize that the solution lies within not without. The journey inwards in the deepest folds of the mind is not easy and if scientifically pursued repeatedly and consistently, is bound to yield results. The starting point is a conscious effort to be aware, to be mindful, focussing on every action, and giving it full attention. This is even tougher in today’s world where multitasking is the norm, and starts at a young age. We allow our children to eat while watching television, study with music playing in the background, sleep as we sing or read to them. As parents we feel that the ends justify the means-the child must eat properly whether he or she likes it or not, studies and learns while his/her favourite song plays, and sleeps soon enough. In reality we are distracting him/her from the principal task, and he/she spends the rest of his/her life deviating from mindful actions and working with distractions.
To be aware, to live in the present, not adding weight of judgements, to actions and statements, is all important. We treat every simple statement as a loaded complaint coming with the baggage of the past. We are often told to address only a current issue and find a solution to the current problem. But we begin with the past history, which often changes the current picture. As in everything else, whatever arises, passes away. But somehow we never let the negatives pass away-we let them fester, and grow-negatives like anger, attitudes, and habits which are the outcome of repeated actions. As they say-whatever you practice, grows stronger.
The Path to the Goal
Shaking off the past, living in the present, being mindful and equanimous, all require a desire for self-improvement through introspection, looking within. This is where religion, faith, belief and following godmen begins. Millions are turning to some form of meditation, mindfulness practice, chanting, seeking refuge in dogmatic religious practices, or following of the hundreds of spiritual gurus who claim to offer solutions to problems and promise a happier life. Only a select few seek rational, scientific solutions through self observation that takes us on a journey to the very core of our being.
Meditation is a journey inwards, not along an external path, that takes us into the deepest folds of our minds, look at the defilements that plague us, the endless layers of negatives that torment our soul, and the baggage of the past that bow us down. As we sit in concentration, be it by focusing on our breath, or chant, or sing or pray, the purpose is the same. To break the chain of thought, focus on the present and veer the mind away from its state of turmoil, frenzy and anxiety.
Meditation is a technique, a skill that can be learnt and perfected to observe something that exists, be it the breath (the incoming breath and the outgoing breath), an external object (perhaps a deity), a point like a dot in the center of the forehead, a mantra or verse that is repeatedly chanted, and so on. The purpose is the same, to observe what exists, without judgment or emotion, and eventually being able to understand the reality better than before. The idea is to calm the mind, slow down the pace of racing thoughts, relax and eventually reach a state of ‘thoughtless awareness’. It signifies peace and quiet, sitting still and nearly motionless in a place so quiet, that one can hear one’s own rising and falling breath.
Skeptics would compare meditation to sleep, since both involve quiet, motionless stillness, except that while meditating one is totally, completely aware, alert, and focusing within rather than without, with a mental state that has no room for the past or the future. It does not make the mind a switch that can be turned off and on, it is something that the mind learns and perfects, and ever after, learns to be alert and aware, observes but does not always react, and tries to stay in the present moment.
Meditation helps us improve our focus, resolve our doubts, fears and insecurities, get rid of our stress and anxiety which impact our health, and helps us lead a better life, and also simultaneously improve the environment around us, since we learn to get rid of vices, bad habits and defilements.