By Aparna Sharma September 2011 Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not get bent out of shape… There is a Zen story about an oak tree and reeds that grew side-by-side alongside a river. The oak tree was strong and proud; its enormous trunk and branches reaching far above the tops of the slender reeds below. One day, a great storm came from across the river, and the strong winds blew with all their might. The oak tree, as strong as it was, was toppled over by the winds, but much to the dismay of the tree, the reeds were still standing. The reeds remarked calmly, “We were not blown over because we were flexible and moved with the wind. Although you are strong, you fought against the wind and lost.” So what is all the fight about? Why do we struggle against the clock, struggle with each Nothing in the world is more flexible and yielding than water. Yet when it attacks the firm and the strong, none can withstand it, because they have no way to change it. So the flexible overcomes the adamant, the yielding overcomes the forceful. Everyone knows this, but no one can do it.” ~Lao Tzu other, struggle within ourselves, jostle and push our way through the crowds and through life? And for what? I myself am caught up in a stifling routine, wherein as a single mother, in a cosmopolitan city, I have had to stick to a fixed time-table from dawn to dusk¸ but never questioned why I am caught up in this struggle. We all have our own stories, our own reasons; family, career, business, responsibilities, children, community, social events… a zillion excuses, but the underlying basic reason remains the same, ‘insecurity’. We find security in a set routine, in a fixed way of life, in a pattern which repeats itself. Till last year I found it almost impossible to read through a book without the security of a bookmark. It gave me jitters to embark on a journey without planning it out to the very last detail. We may like to think that we ‘know our minds’, that we don’t ‘sit on the fence.’ But the truth is, that our deep insecurity of the unknown makes us hide behind such routines and attitudes. A friend of ours has for decades had his dinner at 7.30 pm, even if it meant missing out on all weddings, get-togethers or the family-time over dinner, gradually distancing himself from everybody. I wonder if it was worth it. Binding beliefs Anything that binds us, be it a belief, a concept, a ritual, a routine, anything that doesn’t give allowance for life to flow freely, is a deliberate effort on our part to exert control on our lives. Anything that binds us, be it a belief, a concept, a ritual, a routine, anything that doesn’t give allowance for life to flow freely, is a deliberate effort on our part to exert control on our lives. We create personality-based images of people: “He is always negative”. From the most insignificant issues like my mother’s insistence on using crystal glasses in summer and steel in winter, to the oppressive regimes that deny human rights, the premise is the same: “This way is right, that way is wrong”. The beliefs may be of any nature, physical (too short, too fat, too weak), worldly (culture, religion, tradition) or of the esoteric (angels, magic, white light, past life). A religious belief that won’t allow me to explore other beliefs, a culture which disapproves of an alternative lifestyle and all kinds of religious fanaticism, all operate on the same premise. Kapil Gaba, a spiritual explorer, has an interesting take on this. “Even a renunciation of all belief systems at times may become just another binding belief,” he says. “In fact, even a ‘sanyasi’ who renounces all beliefs, only to embrace a concept like ‘silence’ or ‘self’ or a ‘white light’ nebula is also, in a way, submitting to a belief.” By and large, our views harden us, harden our hearts, close our minds and we live encased within these beliefs like automatons in a hardened world. Fluid grace Flexibility, on the contrary, means to create that space from which new worlds may emerge. “It allows you,” says Gaba, “to flow from one belief system to another without disparaging one or glorifying the other. It is just like water that may flow over a rock, a leaf or a grain of sand with equal fluidity, equal grace.” Can we then empty ourselves of our mental, emotional, religious and attitudinal conditionings so as to allow that space for something new? Aropa’s guidance to a young couple in Madhu Tandon’s book, Faith and Fire: A Way Within talks of this space between two people which forms love. “It has to be a point beyond, to which you both submit… you submit to love, not to each other’s personalities. Look for the promise of perfection, the ability to love, the ability to change, the vision of fulfilment that lies beyond self- gratification. That is the personal point you submit to,” she says. “Patients come with complaints of palpitation, dizziness, frequent headaches, acidity, back ache or fatigue. These are a few of the chronic complaints, where treatment may not always be effective,” says Dr Deepali Jaju, senior registrar at a hospital in Muscat. This set her wondering as to where were the worries and anxieties coming from? Were they emerging from expectations and conditionings? After an initial denial, patients slowly started opening up to her. One of her female patients got palpitations when her child was late from school by even five minutes, while another complained of a headache if his wife did not serve tea at six, making her conclude that medicines were of no use in this scenario without an attitudinal change. Lifestyle changes too are directed towards breaking old patterns. So if you are not exercising, then start now. If you are not eating fresh vegetables, start eating them now, even if you don’t like them. It’s far more difficult to get stuck in a viewpoint, get angry or fly off the handle in an adverse situation, when you are flexible. Flexibility enables us to make a few key changes which help us glide through life effortlessly. Accepting change Conditionings, like railway lines, are useful, till the going is smooth. But one little twig on the track and we get badly stuck. Running our lives on predetermined tramlines, may make us feel ‘in control’ and ‘safe’ – but we are actually at considerable risk the moment the situation changes. Flexibility, on the other hand, allows for change without disturbing our equilibrium. The only thing certain in life is uncertainty, “and come to think of it, I’m not even sure that is true,” adds the maverick guru Swami Beyondananda. The ‘happiness coach’ Nithya Shanti asserts: “The cure for rigidity and dogmatism is contemplating that everything is relative and changing.” Allow for a new outcome One aspect of flexibility is being open to a new outcome. This implies giving up on expectation and opening ourselves to newer horizons that emerge before us. “Who can travel the miles if one does not put one foot in front of the other, all attentive to what presents itself continually?” ~ Mary Oliver Herbie Hancock, the American jazz pianist, shared, “I had a great teacher, Miles Davis. I remember I played a real wrong chord at the peak of a great evening when Miles was soloing. He played some notes that made my chord right. It blew my mind. He didn’t hear it as a wrong chord, he just heard it as something that had happened and he took the responsibility of making something out of it.” Hancock later did the same, innovating on the spot, picking up from a note and playing it. He did not just play music, he actually ‘created’ music. Enjoy the journey Just look around any public place. Notice how many people find it difficult to refrain from texting or e-mailing even while in a group. We seem to be unable to ‘be’ in the moment. Being flexible allows us to not only stop and smell the roses, but sit down and bask in the fragrance. It is only when we deeply engage with the gentle flow of small events that we come to know our lives. -Ivan M. Granger Surrender Best explained by Eckhart Tolle, “Surrender is the simple but profound wisdom of yielding to rather than opposing the flow of life.” The most powerful state for a human to be in, it is the state of embracing reality completely, of what is – now, and saying ‘yes’ to life. There is a vast power in that ‘yes’. The action that arises then out of this ‘yes’, is a spontaneous response to life rather than a mere reaction. Out-of-the-box thinking For centuries, Zen masters have been using the Zen koan to trick the logical mind and elicit moments of enlightenment. An example is the classic, ‘What is the sound of one hand clapping?’ paradox, that forces the mind off its usual pathway and offers a glimpse of the infinite. When we stretch beyond the borders of our usual thinking, life puts us in the flow of creativity which can change the world. Go with the flow Why are we always either setting goals or overcoming obstacles, desperately trying to make things happen? There is always something to be done, something to be controlled, to be made better. We force relationships because our time is running out and we can’t be alone. We try and force things that may not be right because we don’t want to miss out. We have to be constantly ‘making something happen’, instead of
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