Feb 12, 2019
What is awareness?
Awareness to me is being mindful of my state of mind, of my emotions and feelings.
Also, knowing that these feelings do not always convey the right information about the world around me, so having the ability to take a step back before acting on them is what it means to be aware.
In short, not wanting to be tossed around by my feelings/emotions, being in control? being centred!
From my perspective, awareness also entails being mindful of others’s state of mind i.e., being able to put myself in other’s shoes. This allows me to act our of empathy and be non-judgemental towards other people that I interact with.
Why do I seek awareness?
I seek awareness due to my previous experiences. I originally first seeked knowledge, and ended up experiencing some aspects of centred-ness. I know how it completely changed my life, and I know getting there again can bring about such a positive change in my life e.g., emotion regulation, stress reduction, empathy and non-judgemental attitude. I know it can bring a lot of clarity (for lack of words), and a transformative perspective to my life. At the same time, I am not really sure whether it's just that experience that I am seeking? Or am I still seeking knowledge? I guess I know that I haven't explored all aspects of awareness, and I wonder what it would be like? The bottom line is that I have always seeked answer to the question of "WHO AM I", and I guess despite of all my analytical reasoning on this topic, I am still searching for myself. Maybe that means I feel like I haven't really explored all aspects of my being?
The scientist in me wants to know the experiential limits of the mind as well. What causes or brings about these experiences?. How do these experiences lead to such transformative effects? What kind of mechanisms and computations underly them? There seem to be some very interesting top down psychological effects associated with awareness. For instance, journaling as a practice and mindfulness throughout the day can make a whole lot of difference in how we perceive the world. It’s fascinating!!
Should we seek awareness?
I am not really sure about this one. I do seek awareness for reasons explained above, however, I am not sure thats always a good thing. For instance, if I desire to be centred, and I am not able to be, that can lead to frustration, taking me further away from being centred.
Feb 14, 2019
Why do we experience boredom?
Restless mind: I think for me initially my mind used to be very restless, constantly needing some stimulation. Due to this, I could not sit with my eyes closed even for 2 minutes. When our mind is so used to being stimulated all the time (more so these days with social media), its very easy to quickly get bored without any stimulation. Hence it can be difficult to be still for a long time.
Long term vs short term benefits: Sometimes we lack insight into the advantages or the usefulness of being aware. For instance, if I have a pset due tomorrow, I might be more inclined to spend my time doing the pset, rather than spending time on a contemplative practice. This is because I can see the short term consequences of not doing the pset. However, the consequences of not doing my practice are not very clearly visible. This lack of visibility could be due to the following two reasons:
If I have never experienced a state of constant awareness, I have no idea what it is like, and hence no motivation to cultivate such a state.
Second situation is that I have experienced such a state (or some aspect of it), and I have intrinsic motivation to cultivate it again in order to improve the quality of my life. Even in this instance, there is lack of extrinsic motivation i.e., the world around me doesn’t directly value it. Hence I need to be strongly intrinsically motivated and disciplined in order to cultivate such a state.
Feb 15, 2019
Just a few days ago, I caught myself getting angry. It was a conversation with some friends, and I felt like I was being judged. I felt angry and reacted out of anger in sort of a defensive way. I was so engrossed in that emotion, that only a few minutes later I realized how tight and angry I was feeling inside. I realized that it was my ego that got hurt, and that in-turn made me angry. However, had I been aware, it wouldn’t even have mattered and the situation would have humorously passed away. I think this is an indication that I really need to practice constant awareness - make a deliberate effort to be mindful all the time throughout the day, and catch myself if I deviate off. So this is definitely going to be one aspect of my daily practice.
Apart from that, I am planning to do a silent meditation preceded by breathing exercises every morning. The breathing exercises would help calm the mind before going into the meditative state. I have also been thinking about the role of sound e.g., chanting and Tibetan singing bowls have been long used in different cultures. I am planning to read up on them to see whether I would like to incorporate one of them in my practice.
Feb 19, 2019
Why do I seek awareness and should I seek awareness? - I am still thinking about these questions, and I just had a discussion on something similar with a friend who had a different perspective. He mentioned that it’s not always necessary to have a reason to do something. This just stuck with me. Maybe there is no answer to the question: why I seek? I tend to think that I seek due to my previous experiences, but why did I seek in the first place? I don’t think I have a logical answer to that. It just happened to me of its own accord.
But should I even seek? I can’t help seeking it, but that might not necessarily be a good thing. The more I run after something, the more attached I would get to it. Attachment isn’t necessarily a good thing in itself, as it can lead to sorrow. I think seeking awareness is also a desire, which if unfulfilled would lead to misery, and if fulfilled will lead to more desires. Then maybe the first step for me is to not get attached to the pursuit of awareness. I think I should just do what I need to do, and if it happens, fine. If it doesn’t happen, then also fine :).
The role of sound: Through researching a bit and talking to people, I found that chanting is a way of focusing awareness in order to keep one’s mind in the present moment. For instance, its role seems similar to that of the breath in breathing exercises, or that of the body in yoga.
Certain sounds are known to have a healing effect. For instance, we make very different sounds when we are happy vs when we are sad/crying/mourning. Breath also has the same property of having different rhythms as we go through different emotions. In this sense, both chanting and breathing exercises could be seen as emotion regulation mechanisms.
However, there is an aspect that is unique to sound, and that is the vibrations it produces in the body.
Additionally, chanting is also a form of expression which is very different from breathing and focusing that have no expression in them. I wonder how much and in what way choosing what to express (i.e., which chant) matters? I also wonder whether the effectiveness of a chosen chant varies from person to person?
Whenever I take the outbound T from Kendal square, I always listen to the chimes at the station. Those sounds are so relaxing, and they always make me think what is it about these particular sounds that causes the relaxing effect?
Similarly, some forms of music are also very relaxing to me. For example, Indian classical music, or the Violin I heard in Barcelona (see video below). Even though I was surrounded by hundreds of people, the violin brought a certain stillness in me. I felt so absorbed in myself that it didn’t really matter whether there were people around me or not.
I think for the above reasons alone, it’s worthwhile to add some aspect of sound in my practice. I might pick one form or try out multiple forms (e.g., chanting, singing bowl) sticking to each one for a certain minimum period of time before switching to the next one.
Feb 23, 2019
Found my chant!
I finally found a chant for my daily practice that resonates with me. It’s a Sanskrit chant centred around the theme of happiness and freedom:
"Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu"
It translates to "May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to the happiness and to the freedom for all."
I chose this chant because I felt that besides the effect of chanting related to vibrations in the physical body (that I have yet to discover), it would also have a psychological effect i.e., reinforce my awareness about the beings around me, thus re-kindling the feeling and inspiration to serve, and be compassionate not only to other humans, but to the nature as well.
Daily Practice: I finally decided to start with few breathing exercises and then go into silent meditation. Following the meditation, I will do the chanting. Apart from that, I am also trying to practice constant awareness throughout the day, and so far I have noticed that I have started enjoying my walks to work and home much more than before. I notice so many new things everyday, and that makes me feel awake, as opposed to running on an auto-pilot.
One thing I have been wondering about is whether I should alter my diet at least during the next few months. It is said that “we are what we eat”, and if we are working towards cultivating a state of awareness, it might be useful to eat healthy and light food. With this thought, I tried making a green smoothie for the first time today. Ingredients were spinach, banana, mango, and milk and to my surprise it turned out pretty yummy!. Turns out spinach doesn’t add much of a taste to the smoothie, so the taste of the fruits dominates. This was a nice little discovery, and something I can see myself having regularly.
I think it’s important for me to have some discipline in my life, and this is something I tried for the last two weeks, but I fell off my routine after the first few days. There is also a lot going on, so it sometimes becomes difficult to stick to a schedule, given the expectations of various people that I interact with at work and at home, and my own sense of responsibility. My plan going forward is to make a flexible schedule that allows me to balance different aspects of my life e.g., work, contemplative practice, spending time with friends/family, working out, cooking and cleaning. All of these things can’t happen everyday obviously, so I think it will help to allocate days for each of these things, and have loosely defined amount of time that I can spend on each of them. I am realizing that having a balance is extremely important for me.
Feb 28, 2019
So I did end up making a schedule that I am trying to follow and it has made my life easier already. Hopefully I can stick to it.
This week we went for a Qi-Gong session, and it was my first time trying it out. There were two things in particular that really fascinated me:
First, we had our eyes open throughout the session. In-fact, Peter, our instructor for the session referred to it as a non-meditative contemplative practice. When we close our eyes to meditate, our mind can drift off into the past or future thoughts/planning. However, with eyes open, there is less chance of that happening. My overall experience of the practice was that it lead to total mindful awareness throughout the time I did it.
Second, I had the same feeling in my hands that I usually do when I meditate. I usually feel pulsing and heaviness in my hands when I meditate, and I felt the same way during Qi-Gong.
March 3, 2019
Today during my practice, I not only felt the pulsing in hands but also in my forehead. I wonder what causes it to happen? It seems like the top down attentional effects cause some physiological changes in the body. On a related note, I saw the following poster at the Qi-Gong centre. It seems to show energy centres or life force centres.
Hindu philosophy also has some thing similar - the concept of seven chakras as shown below :
I wonder what these are trying to convey? Both philosophies talk about activating energy points in the body that create some sort of an aura around you. However, I wonder how these manifest physiologically?
Yesterday I noticed a difference in my behaviour. I was having this conversation with someone on imposter syndrome. They asked me whether I had experienced imposter syndrome after coming to MIT, and I told them I hadn’t. Later they pointed out that they believed that if one doesn’t experience it even once throughout their time at MIT, then they haven’t taken full advantage of being at MIT or they haven’t really realized the opportunity they have that they are not making full use of.
My first instinct was to disagree with this, however, I took a breath and resisted reacting in the situation. I just took in what they were saying and chose to reflect on it later. This is in contrast to my behaviour before when I reacted out of anger and felt like I was being judged (see above under Feb 15, 2019). Today after my practice, I thought about it and I found that I still disagree with them for very precise reasons, but not because I am taking it personally. Specifically, I think I do feel challenged by the environment at MIT, but I find that inspiring not scary. When I see people around me that are smarter than me, I see that as an opportunity to learn from them and to grow. I feel grateful, but I have never felt fearful. I have been surrounded by brilliant people these past months, but that has never made me feel that I don’t deserve to be here. It has always made me feel inspired to be like them and I always try to bring people together to learn from each other through peer learning groups and journal clubs. I even occasionally invite people over to my house for academic discussions, many of them smarter than me, being mathematicians and physicists which are strong backgrounds for the field I am in. I have made good friends with such people and continue to learn a lot from them.
At the same time, I do see my journey as my own, and I am confident in who I am. I don’t claim to be better than someone or worse than someone. I am who I am, and I respect my own person. Ofcourse this doesn’t mean that I will never experience imposter syndrome, or that I am a week person if I experience it. However, that’s not the point.
Overall, my opinion is that in order to make full use of the opportunities one has at MIT, it’s not at all essential to have experienced imposter syndrome. This is because clearly, one can feel challenged without a sense of fear and failure. For instance, if one has high self-esteem, challenges might not make them doubt themselves.
Disclaimer: All I am saying here is that it’s possible to feel challenged or inspired by one’s peers or their abilities at MIT even if one is not experiencing imposter syndrome. I respect people who have experienced imposter syndrome, and do not claim to know what that feels like. At the same time, I also do not label imposter syndrome as a bad thing or good thing. It’s a psychological condition that many of us may go through and there’s nothing to be ashamed of in experiencing it. I am sure it’s a valuable growing experience in itself.
I have still been struggling with the concept of liberation. Last week I read a discussion on Matt’s journal where people were discussing about liberation. Someone suggested to “play the game, while still find liberation”. This sounded very profound to me. However I asked what is liberation in the first place?
To me liberation is being in control, and being centred.
By being in control, I mean being in control of my senses. For instance, it shouldn’t be that my craving for ice cream is so strong that I am not able to work until I have had the ice cream to satisfy my craving. At the same time, if I decide I will not eat ice cream at all in my entire life, that is also a kind of attachment to ice cream. There’s some rigidity in this decision and my ego might get bound to this rigidity. However, as Buddha discovered, the middle path seems like the right way to go. Both shunning the ice cream altogether, or an addiction to it lead to bonding. Liberation is in moderation. For instance, eating a moderate amount of ice cream will free my mind from the thought of eating ice cream, and at the same time not make me feel obsessed.
By being centred I mean being in control at an emotional level, i.e., not being tossed around by one’s feelings or emotions. Being aware of my state of mind, and acting rather than reacting in the world on a behavioural level.
Now having defined what liberation means to me, let me get back to the original comment: “play the game, while still find liberation”. This is suggestive of the fact that you can either (1) not play the game at all and find liberation, or (2) play the game and still find liberation. An example of (1) is that if I have never tasted ice cream in my entire life, there is no way I would crave it or feel proud of the fact that I am able to resist it completely despite it being delicious. In other words, there is no bonding with respect to ice cream because I never experienced eating it. Thus, I am already liberated from it since I never got bound by it’s experience. An example of (2) is that I have eaten ice cream and it is possibly my favourite dessert (which it actually is :)), however I find a way to liberation from it, through moderation as explained above.
Now the question is which approach is the right one? Obviously, since I am living in the world, I am gonna have to play the game i.e., follow (2) since there is no way of avoiding experiences unless I go and live my life in seclusion (which I do not want to do). However, even when I am experiencing while living in the world, I can choose to avoid certain experiences i.e., follow (1) in order to avoid bondage to them. For instance, knowing that caffeine addiction is not good for me, I can avoid forming a habit of drinking coffee everyday or often. The question then becomes, if there is something of addictive nature in the world, or something that I know would shake my centre, and if I can avoid it, under what situations should I avoid it and under what situations should I choose to experience it?
One answer could be that if I feel neutral towards something then its safe to not experience it, however if I feel curious, or have a desire to experience something, there isn’t much use in avoiding it due to the fact that it will lead to bondage in a different way by binding with my ego. In that case, moderation maybe the best.
Another thing is, let’s say I feel neutral towards something, but by virtue of my role in the world, it’s my duty to do it. This is where I would need to play the game and aim to still be liberated in the true sense. Aha!.
Thus if it’s not my duty, and I feel neutral towards it, I don’t see any downside to avoiding that experience. However, for things that fall under the duty, curiosity or desire clause, I might try to experience them in an unattached way - how? by being aware and mindful as I go through that experience. If I am unable to do that, there is a possibility that I will fall i.e., get addicted or lose my centre - in that case, I would try to regain my centre thorough my practice.
The very next question thats popping up in my mind is this: I have thought about how to deal with desires through awareness and moderation, however is it possible to reach a state when you don’t have desires? The trivial way to not have any more desires is through exhaustive experience. For instance, having travelled to numerous places in the US, Canada and Europe, I don’t have much desire to travel any more. I value the company of people much more than places I am traveling to at this stage, and might as well sit at home and spend time with them. This however is the trivial case, when I have satisfied my desire to travel leading to no more desires in this domain. Second trivial thing is not having a desire by nature. For instance, I am not passionate about cars and couldn’t care less what car I am driving or travelling it. However all of us while we exist in the world have desires in some domain or another. Is it possible for a human to reach a state where they do not have desires at all?
March 9, 2019
Current existing matrix of emotions, values, drivers
Emotions: I am a very sensitive person by nature, so I experience a number of emotions due to that.
I very often experience empathy, and can often take it to heart if someone is sad, unhappy, or being unfairly treated.
Anger is something I have identified as one of my weaknesses. There have been times when I know that I am getting angry, and I know logically that it’s gonna be of no use, however I still can’t help it, and end up expressing it. However, I have noticed that when I am practicing regularly, it becomes easier to not only be aware of the fact that I am getting angry, but also to change the way I deal with this emotion. I am able to step back and see the big picture. Sometimes, regular practice also helps me to not get angry at all at things that I might otherwise react to. It instills a certain playfulness in me which makes me take things very lightly and I end up either just laughing at the cause or feeling compassionate towards the other person(s) involved.
Anxiety/stress: this is usually in the context of work, and more often then not it is a motivator for me to get my work done. Another cause of anxiety for me is worrying about my loved ones, especially when they are suffering or when they are unreachable and my mind can imagine the possibility of them suffering.
Joy/contentment: I experience joy when I feel fulfilled in my life. Helping others, being disciplined, going out in nature, and being in control of my life are some of the things that bring me joy.
Guilt: I have a tendency to hold myself accountable for things and feel guilty about them. This might also be tied to my empathetic nature. For instance, I usually put myself in other’s shoes and think about what they deserve. According to this, if I have failed to act in an optimal way with them, I might feel guilty for not giving them what they deserved.
Trust: I am a very trusting person by nature, and I have had to pay for it numerous times. Nevertheless I fail to improve on this front for some unknown reason. I feel like being trusting just makes my life so much easier in general.
Values: Optimism, selflessness, compassion, collaboration and equity for all are the values I try to live by.
Drivers: My primary driver is my curiosity to know myself and to explore the nature of life/cognition/consciousness. Another major driver for me is my curiosity about the world beyond earth i.e., universe at large.
March 11, 2019
How do my emotional states affect my experience?
I have noticed that my perception of the world is dependant on my emotional state. The same situation can be perceived differently if I am in one emotional state vs other. In other words, some emotional states can distort my experience of the world and create sort of an illusion. I can recall instances when I interpreted certain things said by people in a completely different way than they intended, due to the emotional state I was in. I think emotions can bias our perception in both positive and negative directions.
What are good and bad emotional states?
I am not sure how to characterize an emotional state to be good or bad. Usually in my experience, when I reflect back at the emotions I am going through, I judge them based on the outcomes they produce, specifically the effect they have on me and on the people around me. If I feel tight and stressed at the end of it, it was a bad emotional state. However if I feel light, and peaceful at the end of it, it was a good emotional state. I think that at the very core, for me, it’s again a matter of being in control vs not being in control. If a certain emotional state completely overpowers me such that I loose awareness of my own state of mind, then it’s not a good emotional state. On the other hand, an emotional state that allows me to watch my mind as I behave in the world is a good emotional state. For instance, when I am calm and peaceful from inside, nothing can throw me off my balance, and I can usually handle things very playfully without being to affected.
For instance, if I get angry, lose control and burst out at someone, thats not a good emotional state. Not only did I react in the situation, I also end up feeling tight inside even after expressing my anger, and the person on the receiving end also doesn’t feel good at the end of it. However, one might ask: what if the expression of anger has some long term benefit? I would still consider it as a bad emotional state if it threw me off my balance. If I feel that it’s important to express anger in a certain situation, I can express it without being too deeply engrossed in the emotion itself i.e., I can act to be angry without experiencing the emotion of anger in it’s true sense.
What are desirable emotional states for me?
The most desirable emotional state for me is to be centred and peaceful at the core. In that situation, I can witness/watch all emotions coming and going as I experience them, without getting too engrossed in them.
March 18, 2019
Dealing with emotions - the role of Compassion
I recently realized that sometimes I can experience completely unexpected emotions. For instance, given a situation that I experienced recently (lets call it situation 'A'), even though I predicted my own emotional response to situation 'A' to be one way, my actual emotional response turned out to be completely different. In-fact I had predicted that situation 'A' is what would make me happy, but when it actually happened I felt confused and stressed out and felt the need to slow down and cry to release the emotional build-up and associated tightness.
I learnt from this experience that sometimes some of my emotions are hidden in my subconscious without my awareness, and they come up when triggered by certain circumstances. When I contemplated on what it was, regret and fear were two emotions that I could identify. At first, I tried to deal with them by using the method of reasoning, however it wasn't working for me.
Our class on loving kindness and compassion really helped me with this. Once I consciously started practicing them, I also started feeling grateful for everything I had in my own life. It shifted my behaviour from being judgemental, to being compassionate and being grateful. This shift enabled me to deal with situation 'A' through being grateful for what I had, trusting, and letting go without any expectations. One of the discussions in class pointed to the fact that reasoning and being inquisitive is not a bad thing, but sometimes too much analysis if done where not needed or out of context can be a hindrance. This was also really useful for me to get me out of my analytical head.
Another thing that shifted for me was my level of happiness and contentment in Cambridge. I always had this perspective that Cambridge didn't have running trails, hiking trails, not much nature etc. This is because before this, I was living in Ontario (London, Waterloo) - places where even residential areas are so spacious and have lots of trees. I used to have a running trail and a lake right next to my house where I used to go for running. This weekend I went for a run near my house in Cambridge, and I was able to appreciate the beauty of Cambridge. I discovered that the fresh pond was not too far from my home, and that it had a nice trail around it where I could enjoy running. Even running in the vibrant city was also enjoyable. I think it's the practice of awareness thats helping me appreciate things more and more rather than being pessimistic about them. I can already feel the experience of joy and contentment in my daily life coming back to me through all the practices I have been doing as a part of this course.
How is trust connected to compassion?
Above I mentioned that compassion makes me trusting of people, and you might be wondering how? When I feel compassionate, I also feel love for the other person, and gratefulness and joy in my own life. I start feeling selfless to the extent that I become very trusting of everyone around me. The trust is not the expectation that the person will only do good/right. But it is of the sort that whatever they do, there must be a reason for them doing that, and I would forgive them. Compassion also brings about a tendency of forgiveness in me. I become very forgiving towards people, no matter what they do to me.
But this has bitten me back in various ways in the past, for instance, I have been robbed multiple times - one time someone stole my backpack with my laptop, phones, and wallet in it, and the other time my airbnb guests looted my house in my absence.
Even after these bitter experiences, I still value the freedom and joy I feel by being trusting the world around me. One of the big dilemmas for me is whether thats the right thing to do? Or should I change my behaviour and be cautious of the world around me? My only worry is that when I start being cautious, I lose this side of me that feels so joyful and content and doesn't even care about being betrayed. Betrayal is not painful to a compassionate and forgiving mind. However, to a cautious mind, it is painful.
Thus, trust makes my own life so much more easier and better in quality. However, clearly it’s not optimal in every situation. The problem I face is that I always feel that either I can be non-judgemental towards everyone, or I can start judging everyone. I have difficulty being in a selective state where sometimes I judge people and other times not. Some might see this as very dumb, but I would like to learn the art of operating in the world such that I can be at peace within myself and at the same time avoid making a fool of myself while engaging with the world around me. Sometimes I feel like operating in the world requires me to be judgemental, and that seems to be contradictory to the internal state of stillness.
April 2, 2018
Accepting others, science and playing music as a practice
Last week I noticed that my mind was relatively calm, i.e., I wasn’t feeling the compulsive need to be occupied by sensory stimulus all the time anymore. However, I also noticed that I was getting a little irritated by people close to me constantly watching youtube or scrolling through facebook in what seemed to me a mindless browsing activity. Talking to Joi about it made me realize that the whole point is to be still, and to not be affected so much by things around us. I realized that (1) I was being judgemental towards others, instead of being compassionate towards them, and (2) I hadn’t reached the stage where I would be so calm to automatically feel compassionate and not get irritated. This past few days I have been more aware of my feeling of getting irritated, and simply being aware of it reduces it and makes me accept the people around me as they are.
Another discussion that I had with Joi was about the role of faith vs science/analysis in a contemplative practice. I have found often myself getting curious about how these practices work and what changes they cause in the brain. However, I was worried that questioning things all the time might hamper the experience of my practice itself. Joi explained to me how we could see both experience and science as two openings of a bridge. While one hand, experiences are not exactly real because of their subjective nature, on the other hand science also has its own limitations since it hasn’t been able to decipher how the mind works. The best way to approach this exploration might be to have faith in the practice to be able to experience its effects in their entirety, and then use that experience to guide the scientific quest.
Talking about contemplative practices, I had been thinking why playing music and running were excluded from being chosen as contemplative practices in the class. Joi explained how the intent was not just to tame the monkey (mind) in the presences of a tamer, but to also have the monkey be calm in the absence of a tamer. In other words, the stillness of the mind should not be dependant on the presence of something external. This makes sense to me, and makes a convincing case against using running because there is a lot going on in the body during running and in the surrounding environment that could be seen as a tamer. However, in case of playing music, I am not able to see much difference between chanting and playing music (especially the types of music that have been based on spirituality e.g., Indian classical music). Both involve the use of sound to reach a state of stillness, and in both cases sound can be considered as a support to get there. Similarly even in the stillness meditation we often use breath as a point of focus to get to a state of stillness. It seems like in all these cases, we begin with something to focus on, and then eventually slide into a deep meditative state where we may not need something to focus on anymore.
April 7, 2018
Relevant to what I was saying above: today during my practice, I had a very deep meditative experience, so relaxing that I didn’t even want to come out of it. I started with some pranayams followed by some breathing exercises followed by stillness meditation. I used breath to slide into the meditative state, but once I was in a deep state, I didn’t need breath anymore. My breath has become so subtle that I didn’t even feel like I was breathing, and I just sat there experiencing that state of stillness. I wonder what would be the analog of this experience if any, if I was using chanting or playing classical music for my practice. I do not have much experience with any of them so can’t really say, but I would love to hear other people’s experiences who might be using these sound based practices.
April 8, 2018
Constant awareness throughout the day
I have been noticing that being aware throughout the day has really brought about a big difference in my day to day life. I don’t indulge in mindlessly watching something or browsing or even mindlessly rumination, and as a result my mind is much calmer throughout the day. I am also able to deal with stressful situations in my life in a much better way than before. For instance, if someone gets angry, I am able to step in their foot and think from their perspective and exercise compassion and love towards them instead of reacting to their anger. This helps me understand the psychological state of the people around me, enabling me to help them in a positive way by making them feel better rather than reacting to them and making them feel even worse.
I have also noticed that I am much more happier these days than I was a month ago. I am actually able to have a genuine big smile as I walk to work everyday. I feel joyful and there is a certain sense of contentment that I have begun to feel. I think I am also finding so much joy in small things around me. Just watching droplets of water on a tree for instance, gives me a lot of deep joy. It’s almost as if I am so much more connected to the reservoir of the capacity to experience joy within me. It could also be spring and the beauty it brings along, but I doubt it’s just that. Following are some of the sights that made me so happy today, and I can imagine just walking past them without noticing them because of my ruminating mind. This was the case just a month ago, when I would leave my house and get to university after a 20 minute walk, without remembering anything that happened on the way. I think just been mindful and having a calm mind helps me be aware of these little things that bring joy to my life.
April 14, 2019
A few days ago, I was showing my boyfriend this webpage on open individualism that one of my friends (from the computational neuroscience journal club that I run) had shared with me.
It had the definition of consciousness resembling that from the philosophy of non-duality in Hinduism, and I asked my boyfriend whether he believed in that philosophy. He said he did believe in nondualism. He then wanted me to watch this video on Ashtavakra Gita - it was one of the episodes from a TV series that he has in his laptop. We watched the Ashtavakra Gita episode and had a nice conversation about the philosophy of consciousness and everything being one. As usual it left me full of wonder and unanswered questions. What did all the words they were using to describe consciousness even mean? How do we know whether nondualism is the reality?
One important thing that really made a difference to my thought process was this: my boyfriend responded to my questions by saying that all models are wrong, and so are all the theories. He gave an example of Bohr's model of the atom, and said that even though the quantum model is more accurate than the Bohr's model, we still use Bohr's model. Similarly, even though we know that Newton's laws are not accurate (given the general relativity theory), we are still able to believe in them because they are useful and we use them. The conclusion was that as long any theory or model is having a positive net outcome on the world, its worth using it / believing in it. Additionally, our perception is limited and hence it's always difficult for us to get to the actual reality, since the truth is always distorted by our perception. Given this, it doesn’t really matter whether nondualism is the reality or not. What matters is what kind of effect does this philosophy have on the people who believe it.
The bottom line is that if believing in non-dualism is having a positive effect on people's lives, if it can help create a better society, then there is no point in simply refuting it. Similar to how we accept other models just because they are useful and have a positive effect on the world, it makes sense to use this philosophy too, if it can improve the quality of our lives.
Though on one hand, it seems to me that this is kind of fooling myself since I don't really know whether non dualism is the reality, so then how can I believe in it? On the other hand, I do show my trust in Newton's laws as well. I guess I could use this philosophy to make my life better with the awareness that this is just a philosophy that might not encapsulate the complete reality.
April 26, 2019
During the last ten days, I went through a very stressful phase of my life where one of my close ones was suspected to have a disease and the test results that would confirm whether they had it or not were supposed to take around 2 weeks to come back. This waiting period was pretty stressful for me. These were also the same two weeks when we didn't have the awareness class.
When they first called me to tell me about the suspected disease, they sounded pretty stressed out and even though I was also freaking out internally, I decided not to express how I was feeling right away, and instead calmed the other person by telling them that they were going to be fine, and that this wasn't a big deal.
I was successful at my attempt to pacify them, however I myself was so stressed out that I could not sleep the entire night and also ended up skipping the workshop I had planned to attend the next day. During this period, even though I was aware that I was stressed, my mind went wild. It became so restless that I had to distract myself by watching something in order to avoid the pain. Even when I was watching something, I was aware of the fact that I was trying to distract myself. However, I did not have any other option because if I didn't distract myself, my mind would get back into the loop of analysis and researching on the disease to figure out the probability of them having that disease and the consequences thereof. I knew there was no point in doing all this research until the results came out, but somehow my mind wouldn't listen to me.
During this period, I realized how easy it is for a situation like this to throw me off my balance, despite the fact that I was still constantly aware of my state of mind. I think I failed to dissociate from the situation in this instance, because the person was close to me, and I was fearful. I am not sure how to get to this state where I can fully dissociate from a tense situation like this, and operate out of a neutral state of mind. When I asked Tenzin about this in class, he said it would come with time and continued persistent practice.
Eventually the results came out and they were negative, so the person didn’t actually have the disease at all, and yet I got so disturbed by the mere possibility of them having it. It was a learning experience that revealed how much more work I need to do on myself to be truly centred.
May 3, 2019
Effect of Sleep
In my experience, when I am practicing regularly and getting a minimum of 7-8 hours of sleep everyday, the quality of my life is much better than when I am sleep deprived. I feel much more energetic throughout the day, and do not feel the need to take a nap during the day. On the other hand, when I am sleep deprived, I am much more prone to getting irritated and stressed out during the day. People who are interacting with me can sometimes make out from my behaviour that I am irritated and not in my best state when I haven’t had a good night’s sleep. This often makes the next day less productive (though not always) due to the feeling of tiredness and the need of the body to rest.
May 10, 2019
What is the purpose/meaning of life?
The reason I named my journal "a meaningful life" is because I am constantly thinking about what the meaning of life is for me. What is the purpose of my life? Whenever I think about this, I usually come to the conclusion that there isn't one purpose for all, but that we all define the purpose of our lives ourselves i.e., the meaning that we attribute to our own lives is subjective.
What is my purpose?
I have often thought that the goal of my life is to contribute to humanity's growth i.e., in terms of the overall happiness and quality of life of people. This would translate to helping people around me and taking action to rectify the ills of our societies. It also means doing science to satisfy the curiosity of human beings and enable them to explore the universe in order to ensure that survival of the human race in the very long term.
Is it important to have a purpose?
I don't think so. This is again something subjective and will vary from person to person. For me however, it is important to at least think about a purpose. This helps me direct my life, and makes it less painful, and more productive.
Making a difference in a disciplined manner
Now the point is that I think about purpose of life to make my own life easier, or to feel good about myself. Whats important is to do kind acts in a disciplined manner, not just in the situations when it is convenient for me or when I am feeling good or feeling like doing them. I am realizing that its important for it to become an integral part of my life that happens irrespective of the other things going on.
What constitutes a good life?
A good life is a disciplined one, and a truly selfless one. I don't want to live a selfish life where I am only thinking about myself and my family. I think it's important to live with a big picture perspective in mind, and to contribute to the world around me in a disciplined and persistent way. Not because it would make me feel satisfied and content, but because I know it's the right thing to do.
Point of confusion
One thing that confuses me is that on one hand we talk about dissociating ourselves from our lives and the world around us. We know that in the very long term, nothing really matters because in the grand scheme of things, everything is changing and everything is impermanent. And yet, in the duration of our short lifespans we define purpose for ourselves. The question then becomes, what is the point of defining purpose and taking any action at all, when in the very long term, it wouldn't even matter?