Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Guitar and Meditation

I'm a month into my Psychiatry rotation and I've had the great pleasure of meeting many wonderful kids. One, in particular, I’ll always remember. One day, he said to me:

“I’ll give you a guitar lesson if you teach me how to meditate again today.”

That’s probably not a line out of a typical psychotherapy session. Perhaps it was typical for us since I am a complete novice when it comes to psychotherapy. It really does take time to know what to say to someone without knowing the person. This particular kiddo was tough because he had layers upon layers of anxiety and trauma. So many layers that he could not function in society and tried to end his life many times. This boy had been on medication for nearly two weeks and the meds definitely helped stabilize his mood: he no longer wished to end his life. After a few sessions with him, I wasn’t sure what I could do to be of further help. We had talked at length, established rapport, but it felt like a dead end.

“Let’s try something different. Let’s meditate together,” I offered. We observed our breath and then I guided him through a 10-minute meditation, something he had never done before. As the next patient came in right after we finished, I didn’t get a chance to speak with him about his experience, but I sensed he appreciated it.

The next day he told me he wanted to play a song for me on his guitar, something he had been practicing since our last session together. He proceeded to play a brilliant Spanish classic and my jaw dropped. He was alive. This was his spirit playing. We then meditated again, upon his request, and this time we had a few minutes to reflect. He said that he had never experienced so much peace and so little anxiety.

Later that day, for the first time, he played his guitar for all the kids on the entire hospital ward and smiled so much that I thought he might injure his face. It was as if he suddenly became this uncontainable ball of light. His radiance, in turn, opened up other children on the unit that day. Some started to sing for no reason, some started to draw, some kids who had held grudges started to talk to one another. A different form of psychotherapy was at work.

He inspired me to learn guitar, I inspired him to learn meditation. Neither of us saw this coming.

In his new book “Life at 100%”, Guruji says that, “true success is smiling even when everything falls apart.” It's easy to smile when things are going our way. But, where does our inner peace and happiness go when life becomes more challenging? And, how often do we help people to smile in our own life? In those moments of smiling, my little hero forgot about his thoughts; he forgot about his broken life. He was free, at least for a little while, of his anxiety and trauma – emotions that had once shackled him to his room and kept him fearful of people. Now he was smiling and had ignited a smile on the faces of all the kids around him.

This child gave me so many gifts that day - so many experiences. Looking for ways to brighten someone's day and actually following through is sacred. This is The Art of Living. It's helping to bring people to their capacity. What is it that we can offer people around us and what is it that we can learn from them? As Guruji says so sweetly, it's really asking yourself these two questions every moment of your life… how much love have you spread?…what knowledge have you gained?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Coming back Home

I was born and raised in Bombay. Of course, the name of the city has now been changed to Mumbai but for me (and for many others in my generation too,  I am sure), it will be Bombay. The city of memories, family, school and college, friends and fun.

I had a liberal upbringing. My parents are possibly two of the most generous and open-minded individuals I have ever met. They placed no restrictions whatsoever on either of us (I have a younger sister). We got pretty much everything we asked for. Except of course, there was this one occasion when I was 7 years old and had accompanied my Dad to the grocery store. I asked him if we could get a TV for the house. Well, this was in the early 80s when TVs were still considered a luxury. So you can possibly guess his response. A firm and gentle NO.

My sister and I were good students. We learned classical music and dance, performed at various events, and were fairly good daughters, if you discount the occasional tantrum, fuss or outburst. As I completed high school and joined junior college (in India, you join college at age 16), I found a great bunch of friends. We shared a common love for music, films, art and humor. Boring college lectures, surprise birthday parties, New Year celebrations, art films and rock music, walks along the beach, night-long conversations on philosophy and life, dreams and ambitions - these were the highlights of my junior college years. Soon after, I joined an engineering college. New friends, bigger parties, overnight treks... and life went on. Then I graduated from college and started working as a software developer. Everything continued as before. I went out with friends, watched one film after another, read many books, indulged in the quintessential existential brooding that seemed to be a hallmark of people my age.

It was all wonderful and exciting and adventurous and yet at the age of 25, I felt like I had come to a full stop. Until then, life had been a series of events, people, places and experiences for me but suddenly it seemed that there had to be a deeper idea to it. Certain incidents in the past couple of years made me wonder if I really knew myself. I felt at conflict with my own self and with certain others in my life. I found myself thinking - Is there any purpose to all this? Who am I? Is there a meaning to these incidents and situations and people?

Suffices to say that the Art of Living Course came at the right time to me. I attended an Art of Living Course, then a couple of Art of Silence Courses, and then the Art of Meditation Course. A year after my first course, I met Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the founder of Art of Living Foundation. Even before I met him, I had seen many videos of his. To me, he always came across as someone familiar, someone who I had known since a very long time. And when I finally met him, it felt like a true homecoming.

I had had no experience with Gurus or spiritual masters while growing up. Yet, it was a matter of few months before I came to see Sri Sri as my personal Guru. There was zero deliberation or thinking involved. It's interesting how some of the major decisions in my life were not decisions at all; they just came to be in the most natural way possible. Some things you simply know without having even a single thought.

I conduct the Youth Empowerment Seminar (YES!) for teenagers, and on one course, I remember talking about Sri Sri to the young participants. I said, "To me, Sri Sri or Guruji is a person who makes me feel like I can do anything. In his presence, I feel strong, complete, powerful. I feel like there is no limit to what I can achieve and accomplish. When I am around him, all my doubts and concerns disappear."

There is so much more I can say about Guruji and how he has truly brought out the best in me on so many levels. Intellectual maturity, a broader sense of perspective about the self and the world, a desire to learn and share... and most of all, a sense of abundance and fullness. Today, I feel like I lack nothing and I want nothing. Moment to moment, my life is full and complete. To Guruji, I owe this precious realization and many many others.

Monday, September 20, 2010


"Mehnat karke samajhna jo hain, buddhimani nahin hain. Kyon ki, mehnat karke jo samajhte ho, woh tumhaara anubhav nahin hain. Sahajta se jo samajh lete ho, woh tumhaara anubhav hain."

Translated as,
"To put effort to understand (something) is not intelligent. Because, that which you understand with effort is not your experience. What you understand simply and easily, that is your experience."

-- Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Hrishikesh, India, March 2000

Over the years, I have heard many talks by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, fondly and respectfully addressed as Guruji by so many of us in the Art of Living Foundation. Each talk is a treasure trove of knowledge, ideas, wonderful realizations and valuable insights. Guruji is one who speaks about the complexities of the mind, the meaning of emotions, the depth of the Universe and the infinite potential of the Self in the most simple of words and expressions. As much as we complicate ideas and questions in our head, Guruji unravels these confused thoughts, making perfect sense of each question, and giving the most fitting answer.

Yet, sometimes, I end up turning his words over and over in my mind. For whatever reason, they don't resonate with me totally. And then it happens a few weeks later, maybe a few months later or a few years even. Something clicks and his words make perfect sense. I liken Guruji's words to seeds; each one lodges securely in the deep recesses of the mind, and when the time is right, sprouts into the most spectacular flower ever. That is, in my opinion, the perfect blossoming of knowledge, at the right time and occasion, when it makes the most sense and is the most relevant.

So, as Guruji mentions, absolutely zero effort is necessary. Everything unravels in its own time, at its own pace. All we need to do is let the process go on. Isn't this so wonderful?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Lost and Found

“We don’t breathe to live, we breathe to enliven,” the yoga instructor whispered softly as she walked by my mat.

Do we have to philosophize at this moment? Can't you see I'm crumpled over attempting a seated forward bend?!

That I identified with this mental chit-chat in that moment was nothing new. I completely missed the infinite depth of the pose itself, the present moment. I wasn’t even aware of the stretch.

I’ve been practicing the Sudarshan Kriya and Sahaj Samadhi meditation for a while and the level of mental clarity that has arisen is astounding. However, just as at the yoga studio, there are still moments throughout the day that I identify with my mental chatter, my reaction to the present moment, resisting what is.

What's been most noticeable, however, has been how these practices bring into full perspective many of the negative tendencies that I have accumulated over time. The practices bring the magnifying glass to new locations in the mind each day, focusing that ray of light into a beam which burns the tendency to a crisp. What negative mental tendency shall I burn today? I don't actually ask myself that, it just happens.

But, there are definitely still those moments in which I feel like a complete space cadet and not present. For example, a few weeks ago, I was driving home in rush hour from a long day at the hospital with my car windows down and the A/C broken. It was 95 degrees out, I was wearing a long sleeve shirt and sweating, and my attention was drifting towards all the interesting people on the sidewalk who were walking, running, skateboarding, or talking, all the while vaguely aware that there was a mental script running about the events of the day at the hospital and about these people I was observing.

I was also on the cell phone, apparently.

What a joke I thought as I hung up. Here I am always talking about how I've become so focused and how important it is to give 100% to the present moment. I felt more like a pie chart with my attention divided up into 100 different slices.

I must also admit that there have been many times recently where I feel like my mind is lost in the world. It's as if my thoughts and desires are like little bullets of glue which attach themselves to people, objects, and situations – to the world. Dispassion? It's getting there...

Out of these moments of entanglement and confusion, however, has arisen a sneaky new awareness. My concepts about the types of experiences I ought to be having and the experiences that are best for me are in jeopardy now. Concepts of right and wrong are being crushed left and right by blocks of awareness falling from the sky. Sound painful? Yes, but growing pains are always something to look forward to, something from which we become bigger and more powerful. Running in either direction, hiding from this scary new awareness, I still sometimes feel lost in the transition from one state of mind to another, and unsure about what is happening.

But, the amazing thing though is that you have to lose yourself to find yourself. You have to have been lost at some point to know you’re going in the right direction. What a strange game life is. If we are owned and held captive by our mental tendencies, our desires or thoughts, then we’re not living in the present moment. That is the only place where we can find ourselves.

I’m so grateful for these moments of confusion and frustration. I’m so grateful to Sri Sri for giving me the gift of the Sudarshan Kriya and Sahaj Samadhi meditation, which have helped accelerate my awareness - my perception, observation, and expression - of how to deal with the entangling and confusing aspects of life. On some level, I have always heard these words, but the many moments of confusion and entanglement have raised the volume: Hey Rob, guess what? I’m doing this to help you step out of your story, out of your personal dilemma! I’m intensifying these feelings for you so that you don’t look to the world to make you happy!

I promise you I’m not schizophrenic.

Well, to the average person I’d seem crazy. But, the good news is that there is relief in recognizing that nothing outside of yourself can give you lasting and complete happiness, as Sri Sri often remarks. By seeing of all this drama pass, like a cloud, a part of yourself which was unconscious, is now conscious. That's the power of Sudarshan Kriya and Sahaj Samadhi meditation.

Friday, September 3, 2010

An experience is worth ten thousand words... or more.

A picture is worth a thousand words. But an experience... maybe more, many more words.

I have been practising Sudarshan Kriya and meditation for more than six years now, and yet the efficacy of these techniques never fails to amaze me. There is a good reason why we refer to these techniques as "spiritual practices," meaning they are not theories or hypotheses waiting to be proved. Instead, they are tried and tested methods that have been used since centuries to relax the mind, refresh the system and dive to the source of thought.

Very often, the human mind chooses quantity over quality. So it baffles us when we hear that twenty minutes of meditation can be more restful than eight hours of sleep. The math does not match up! Well, it needs to be experienced. It has happened to me on multiple occasions that I wake up after 7-8 hours of sleep, feeling hardly rested. My limbs feel sore and heavy, and I cannot shake off the dullness in my mind. On such mornings, it is tempting to fool the mind into thinking that lying in bed for those five extra minutes will make all the difference. Does not work, really. But spending an hour on yoga, Sudarshan Kriya and meditation will most certainly help. One such morning, I just about managed to make myself sit for my daily practice. And an hour later, I could hardly believe how different I felt. The body felt much lighter and my legs had lost their soreness. The mind felt calm and completely relaxed. The draining fatigue of the night before had been replaced with an incredible sense of energy and clarity.

I remember listening to a talk by Sri Sri where he explains that the more subtle an object/entity is, the tougher it is to describe. This, in my opinion, perfectly describes the experience of Sudarshan Kriya and meditation. But I have tried to do that... and you can read it in the lines above! Or you can go and experience it yourself because my words can barely convey an iota of the beauty and magic of these spiritual practices.