By Purnima Coontoor
How can we manage to fit in spiritual practices in a busy life?
A parable told by Swami Anubhavananda, on his website, goes thus: A young businessman rented a shop, but he made just enough profit to pay the rent. His friend asked: “What kind of business are you running? It is worthwhile only if you make a profit at least ten times the rent you have to pay.”
In the same way, we have rented this body for realising the Self. The food, clothing, shelter, is the rent we pay, using the mind, body and speech as instruments. If we do not pay the rent, we cannot live in this body and earn the profit of Self-realisation. Nor can we afford to spend all our time and effort only to pay the rent. The sincere seeker should be able to spend just a small portion of his time and energy for maintaining the body so that he can devote all the remaining time to earn the greatest profit of Self-knowledge.
If sloth is one of the seven deadly sins specified in the Bible, spiritual sloth is deadlier. Most of us are like this businessman, engaged in just catering to the mind and body, with little time for nurturing the spirit. Some of us do venture into it tentatively to test the waters, but withdraw all too easily as we find it too cold for comfort. One New Year resolution I keep renewing every year is to be regular in meditation, yoga and pranayama practices. I am convinced about their benefits, and they are always lingering in the periphery of my thoughts, but when it comes to action, something always crops up to sabotage my plans. As my friend Kavita puts it, ‘The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak’. A young housewife with two school-going kids, she finds herself running around doing her wifely and motherly duties all the time, her ambitions of spiritual pursuits tucked away at the farthest corner of her mind for later reference. “I have signed up for yoga classes, but it has to be sacrificed when my in-laws are visiting, or my kids have vacation. I can’t help it,” she says guiltily. Kavita even attended Sri Sri’s Art of Living classes, and felt the benefits of sudarshana kriya as long as the course lasted, but the practice petered off when she was left to fend for herself.
Why do we find spiritual discipline such a bitter pill to swallow? “Because the tendency of the human mind is sukha prapti, dukha nivrutti,” says Swami Sukhabodhananda, explaining that we tend to do things which give us comfort, and reject that which we consider chores. Snuggling in bed until the last moment gives us sukha, whereas getting up at 5 am for meditation is dukha. Unless there is a paradigm shift in attitude, and meditation starts giving us real sukha, this will continue to be, he says. And this can only be through experience. No amount of convincing by another can induce one to take this leap of faith.
Parameshwaran, a yoga exponent, is more ruthless in condemning spiritual sloth. “We always justify our limitations,” he says. He is a retired bank employee who took up VRS at the age of 50 to dedicate his life to spiritual pursuits. “Yad bhavam, tad bhavati. As we think, so it happens. It’s all in the mind. I wake up at 5 every morning, no matter how late I go to bed, and begin my spiritual practice. It’s more important to me than anything else,” he declares. He is also a regular at his guru’s ashram, and thus spends most of his time in spiritual activities.
It seems spiritual discipline comes easy for those who are part of or run a spiritual group. Shanti (name changed), a corporate trainer with an international firm, also runs an Osho Meditation Centre. Her day begins at 3 am, when she bathes, drinks four glasses of water mixed with lemon and honey, and starts off with her daily practice. It comprises of pranayama followed by Osho’s active and passive meditation till 7.30 am. Evenings are also meditation time, followed by Osho’s discourse. Special sessions are scheduled for Sundays. “I love to meditate. For me, it’s not a routine but has become my life itself. I cut down on other activities as this is my priority, and I try to be centred throughout the day,” says this petite practitioner. Her centre is visited by many young professionals from different faiths who have made meditation part of their daily routine.
If only all of us were capable of that kind of intensity and discipline… Yes, most of us are too busy with our homes and careers for regular spiritual practice. Yes, most of us are waiting for our children to grow up, our spouses to co-operate, our bank balance to be decent enough to chuck our jobs and our material cravings to be satisfied, before we look at spiritual practices with seriousness. So is there no hope for us? Is there any way we can weave spiritual practices into our daily lives, without upsetting our other schedules?
Counsellor Anuradha is as busy as they come, and yet has found an ingenious way of finding time to meditate. “First thing in the morning, before the family wakes up, I put milk to boil on a very low flame so that it takes 15 minutes to be done, and this is the time I meditate,” she says. “It energises me, and I feel good for the rest of the day.” Another housewife, Vidya, has made it a habit to do so when something is put in the microwave. “I snatch small amounts of ‘grounding’ time when the microwave starts count-down,” she says. “I stare at a spot above it without blinking until I hear the beep.” Given the fact that the mind stops thinking when the eyes don’t move, this is an excellent exercise. Somasundar is a retired government employee who had to travel about 20 minutes to his office every day for the past 40 years. “At least for the past 25 years, I have been mentally reciting the Vishnu Sahasranama while travelling to and fro to work,” he says, “that is, four recitations per day, as I used to come home in the afternoon break!” Now that he’s retired, any time is recitation time for this engineer… driving, walking, eating or resting. “It’s become a habit, one that I’m not willing to shed,” he says.
Sujata, a lecturer in a women’s college, says that she’s been trying to wake up early for meditation for ever since she can remember, but just can’t. “I’m simply not the type – I love my eight hours of sleep,” she shrugs, “so now I have converted my walking time into pranayama time too. I inhale for four steps, and exhale for four steps, or vary the pattern when I feel like it. Breath awareness is part of my 40-minute power walk every day,” she says. Asha is another fitness freak who has an elliptical-cycle at home. “Earlier, I used to cycle 30 minutes to Hindi film hits, but now I play devotional music or bhajans, and sing along. This kind of music elevates me, and I feel the double benefit of physical and mental rejuvenation after this exercise,” she says. Her mother is an avid reiki practitioner, and she makes complete use of her TV viewing time (which is quite a bit!) for the practice…a happy blend of healing and entertainment! Another friend gets into the pranayama mode whenever she’s driving with her family in their car, letting her husband and son to chat between themselves.
Many find that ‘japa’ is one sure way of being in touch with the spirit, and find it convenient to practice during any physical activity. Sister Mary, in the administrative section of the college in which I used to work, always had her rosary within reach. One could often see her silently working on her beads when no student or faculty was around to bother her. Mental chanting is an involuntary habit with most elderly people strolling in parks either in the morning or evening.
As academician and educational training consultant, Gururaj Karajagi, mentioned during one of his sessions, most of these practices are forced upon us as children, for which we have to be thankful. “I used to resent chanting the Gayatri mantra and the Vedas as a child, but now, I am able to appreciate its intent and import. I now enjoy doing the same with awareness and gratitude.” Giridhar, a software engineer settled in US for the past 20 years, echoes the sentiment. “I’m grateful for my strict ritualistic background,” he says, “reciting the Gayatri mentally twice a day, during sunrise and sunset, no matter where I am or what I’m doing, is my only sustained spiritual practice, and I find myself going deeper and deeper into it with each passing day.”
In fact, rites and rituals form an important part of spiritual practice for most who come from that background. For Jagannath (name changed), a young IT professional from Bangalore, the day begins with rising early and heading straight for the pooja room, where he spends 40 minutes with his gods for daily worship. His mother happily prepares the ground for the same – cleaning the place and preparing ‘prasad’. After marriage, he found a willing partner in his wife, also an IT professional. “Now she wakes up with me and helps me with the rituals,” he says, “and it’s entirely voluntary. Both of us find immense peace by engaging in this activity.” Thus it’s even better if couples and entire families are into spiritual practices.
Living the life spiritual Contrary to the above, some start out as intensely ritualistic, but find the practice unn-ecessary and burdensome as they grow in meditation. Mr Achar had always been into traditional worship, but finds the whole rigmarole meaningless now. “Everything is His, so what’s the point in plucking His flowers and breaking His coconut to please Him?” he asks. “Whatever I do, I offer at His feet. I am filled with His thoughts all day long; that is my meditation,” he says, his eyes luminous with intense devotion. Parameshwaran agrees. “Rituals are good, but one should understand their true purpose,” he says. “It’s not what you do, but how you do it that’s important. It’s no use if you sit in front of God for worship, and your thoughts are elsewhere. Awareness is the key – and it should be practised all the time. You have to go deeper and deeper into yourself, and always observe your thoughts and body sensations,” says this former banker, a yoga practitioner
This school of thought appears to be gaining ground. A sizeable number of individuals felt that spirituality should be a way of life, rather than an activity relegated to a time and place. Says Mr Ramasubbiah, a businessman, “My spiritual practice is alive during my waking hours in the sense that all my thoughts, words and actions are generally free from back-bite, jealousy, selfishness, anger and any such negative-orientation. I practice the Parsee philosophy of cultivating good thoughts, speaking good words and doing good deeds. Every day, soon after I bathe, I pray for the well-being of my immediate and extended family and friends. It could be in the presence of any God’s photograph or as I am moving around or getting dressed up. I occasionally get into meditation, bhajan and yogic practices like pranayama while being in a similar group continuously for a week or two, scheduled once in two to three years!” says this happy grandfather. Since there is no specific place or time allocated for this spiritual activity, Mr Ramasubbiah is free from tension and worries of upset schedules.
Shubha Patwardhan is a young Bharatanatyam dancer who is into Vipassana meditation. “I was exposed to this technique of meditation when I was 21 and I have continued to practice it ever since. Of course, I am happily irregular and indisciplined when it comes to daily sessions. But I think to a large extent I’ve made it a part of my life – my every minute!” she says.
Any act can be turned into a meditation, says Osho. It’s more important to be meditative, rather than meditate. “All techniques are just tools to help you contact your being. Meditation happens when the mind stops, time stops and you are relaxed enough to allow life to take possession of you. This happens when you are grounded, just like trees which grow deep roots into earth, and receive its blessings,” says the master in the book, Zen. Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh says that one should wash dishes for the sake of washing the dishes, not for the sake of getting them clean! An example of how, with awareness, even the most mundane chore can be elevated to a spiritual act – the essence of Zen.
Ultimately, we are all spiritual beings having a human experience, and not vice versa. Therefore, we should constantly remind ourselves of that truth in thought, word and deed. And then will come a time when reminding will no longer be necessary.
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