By Purnima Coontoor
For most of us, time is a tyrant, relentlessly pushing us forward. The spiritual journey is all about escaping from its clutches and resting peacefully in the present moment. How do we crest this divide? An exploration.
Modern day life makes too many demands on us. ‘One thing at a time…’ no longer seems to be a viable proposition. Your attention is divided among many different tasks at a time, and something else is always more important than what you are doing right now. The cooker whistles, the mobile sings, the baby wails and the doorbell rings – all at the same time. You are unable to concentrate on the task at hand, and make silly mistakes that could have been avoided if you were paying attention. So you do the same work all over again. You then feel dissatisfied with yourself, your family, your boss, the situation, and with life itself. Your movements are jerky, your thoughts are jerky, your body is tense, your mind is muddled, your work output is far from efficient.
You feel pulled and pushed in all directions, and are no longer in control. Time is, and you are its slave. Mental and physical exhaustion overtakes you, rendering you more incapable.
Bewilderment is all you can feel.
Dr. Sujendra Prakash, a psychologist from Bangalore, states in his web site www.supratherapy.com that there are three types of stress: Neustress (neutral stress), Eustress (positive stress) and Distress (negative stress). The symptoms outlined above are simply the effect of distress. It is the root cause of all disorders.
He says, ‘For man, suffering comes automatically. People suffer because they have not learnt how to cope with problems. Drowning is automatic, which can be prevented by learning to swim. In any situation, we suffer when we have not learnt to deal with it and enjoy when we have learnt to deal with it. So we first need to learn to deal with stressful situations.’
‘Sink or swim’ seems to be the Hobson’s choice most face today. It is inevitable that multiple jobs demand our attention at once, but, as Dr. Prakash says, we have to learn to deal with it, and understand where the leakage happens. One way is to cut down on the number of jobs that we take on, and simplify life. But that might not always be possible. Management gurus would tell us to learn simple time management, beginning with tackling procrastination. Just getting down to doing whatever needs to be done is a good way to begin.
All of us have the same amount of time per day, but procrastinators do not invest it wisely. People put off things that they should be focusing on right now, usually in favor of doing something that is more enjoyable or they are more comfortable doing. This often leads to feelings of guilt or inadequacy, not to mention jobs piling up until they are unmanageable. Time then becomes the favorite villain, forever in short supply. ‘Just the sight of a wash basin full of dirty dishes is enough to depress me. I’d always rather do something else,’ says Anita, a homemaker. ‘I keep postponing it, until by night it has grown into a mountain.’ Resentment follows, and it’s a tired and angry Anita who goes to bed.
People also tend to shelve important jobs, in favor of getting urgent jobs done. Getting on that treadmill at 10.30 every morning is important, but going to the ATM at that very hour is urgent. Finishing the project report is important, but checking mail just once more is urgent. Spending time on a leisurely family dinner is important, but catching the prime time news on TV is always urgent.
Thus, procrastinators spend lots of time on urgent issues, and bypass important jobs for later. Other reasons (excuses?) could be that the ‘mood’ is not ‘right’, or the ‘time’ is not ‘right’. ‘Just do it’ says an ad for Nike, and it could well be addressed to procrastinators. There can never be a wrong time to do the right thing. Says a verse in Sanskrit: Tadeva lagnam, sudinam tadeva (the right time and day is here and now). If only this simple mantra were applied in everyday situations, a lot could get accomplished. And the feeling of satisfaction from ‘closing a file’ is enormous.
Enjoy the Journey
Another debilitating tendency in people is to put off things for fear of failure, or expectations of doing a perfect job all the time. We tend to either underestimate or overestimate our potential, and settle for all or nothing. More often, it’s nothing. We need to be gentle with ourselves, allow space for mistakes, and take pleasure in the performance of the task rather than worry about its outcome. Film actor Hrithik Roshan has been often quoted to say that the success or failure of his films becomes immaterial to him by the time he is done with them, because he always finds the process enriching. This can be a rewarding attitude to take, and it comes recommended from no less a being than Lord Krishna himself: Karmanyaevadhikaraste maa phaleshu kadachan (You have the right only to duty, not to its results). This is not to say that we should never expect results for our work, but that if we take care of the work itself, results will follow automatically.
Children fall into this mode quite easily. Just look at a child painting; can you see the rapture on her face, apart from blotches of color on the sheet, when she is producing her work of art? This is because children’s egos are not fully developed, and they are able to find joy in simple things. Tackling our jobs with the innocence and enthusiasm of a child is one of the keys to enter timelessness. While children do it automatically, we need to make an effort. The first step in that direction is to drop the ego.
Drop the Ego
The human ego is very strong, and very problematic. Most people cannot let go of their problems as they give them a strong sense of identity and importance. Frequently we get stuck to the problems, unable to seek solutions. When in the thick of things, people think longingly of retirement, and when they do, they fall into depression. The need ‘to do’ something all the time is an exclusive human trait, and purely the work of an advanced ego. And this has been ingrained in man at a very young age and reiterated at all stages of life.
When the need to prove something, do something, or get somewhere, is realized as a never ending and futile game, time slows down dramatically. The focus then shifts from doing something specific to just doing whatever is required at that moment.
Academician and Vedantic philosopher, Dr Ganesh, says that appreciation of art helped him understand and lead life better. ‘The purpose of art is to transcend all purposes,’ he says, adding, ‘Of what apparent use is a beautiful painting? Art for art’s sake, and life for life’s sake. The purpose is given by the ego, and once the idea of a purpose is dropped, ego is dropped too. Just live life for its own sake, there is no need to have an agenda.’ Osho reflects the same thoughts when he says that birds fly and flowers bloom for no reason at all. They neither look for appreciation nor care for reward…and they never seem to be in a hurry!
New age guru Deepak Chopra, in his book, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, recommends that one should make a habit of sitting without doing anything, not even thinking, for half an hour every morning and evening. Sounds easy, but it isn’t. Even when we are at the dentist’s or waiting somewhere, we tend to reach for a magazine, or listen to the radio, or meditate, or look at people and have a dialog within. Without realizing it, we are adding to our stress.
In Zen Buddhism, sitting still is called being in a state of ‘Zazen’. Zen lays great importance on dropping the ego, and is full of techniques to help seekers do that. Often, initiates are asked to just chop wood, or dice potatoes, or do some other innocuous deed for years together. Osho often says that the most vital operations of our body happen without the interference of our ego, like breathing and blood circulation. The universe will take care of everything for us, if only we let it. Only a state of deep and total surrender to the forces of the universe and nothing less will do.
All religions have realized the limitations of the human ego. Christians have been taught to say, ‘Thy will be done’, and Mohammedans, ‘Inshallah’. Dada Vaswani’s simple mantra to overcome stress is… ‘Meri dori tere haath’ (my life-strings are in your hands). ‘Don’t be worried about doing,’ says Osho ‘just learn to let the grass grow by itself.’ Buddha tried all tricks to attain enlightenment, and it happened automatically when he sat down exhausted and dropped all ‘doing’.
The danger in this is that man can happily misunderstand the meaning of ‘letting the grass grow’ as a license for laziness. It also seems to be an extremely fatalistic attitude to adapt. If God will take care of everything, why should we do anything? But to surrender is to drop the sense of ‘doership’ and not the action itself. It’s realising that everything is happening ‘through’ you, and not ‘by’ you. And to surrender is not to feel helpless, but rather feel safe and secure, like a child clasped at the mother’s bosom. Whatever needs to be done, is to be done, and whatever will be, will be.
When this realisation sets in, the body, mind and time slow down, and then, bliss!
But this state can be achieved only after reclaiming the deep state of stillness within through sadhana. Once the inner stillness remains intact, all ‘doing’ will be on the periphery and nothing can then shake your equanimity.
Love your Chores
Most of us look at routine tasks as burdensome chores that take away our time. But since we cannot always do what we enjoy, we should learn to enjoy what we do. Ishwar Daitota, a successful media person and teacher, says that he enjoys polishing his shoes or washing his clothes, as much as teaching and writing. ‘I give the same kind of detailed attention to all the work I do. Many people get bored very fast, because they have forgotten to enjoy simple things in life. I love activities like listening to silence, talking to kids without opening my mouth, watching ants, naming them and identifying them later, eating time-pass peanuts while walking alone, reading books aloud and falling asleep with a book in hand. The list is endless.’
In reality, doing innocuous jobs in the middle of a crisis can be just what the doctor ordered. It slows one down and gives a breathing space that helps put things in perspective. So it’s good not to resent the watering of plants or ironing of pants. They are not entanglements, but jobs that keep us rooted in the moment and slow our system down.
‘Man does not have the awareness to know what he should choose to do. You should simply throw yourself 100% into what you are doing now without entanglement. You don’t know one thing from the other, so just show absolute involvement into what you are doing right now. What you are right now is just breath, body, food, shit, wake up, sleep; this is what you are. But you neither eat with involvement, nor breathe with involvement, nor shit with involvement, nor get up with involvement, nor sleep with involvement. Because of this, you have no sense of what to do. Whatever you do it seems to be inadequate – it seems to be the wrong thing. Show absolute involvement in everything; then what you should do, where you should go will be 100% clear.’
- Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev
Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
‘…and everything is small stuff,’ says Richard Carlson, bestselling author of the book with the above title. Again, it’s our ego which makes us feel that we, and our doing, are central to existence. Truth is that what seems terribly important at this moment, may not matter to us the next year, the next week, or the next morning. Grandma’s remedy of sleeping over an issue is rooted in deep wisdom. The next morning, the problem will always seem less forbidding, but we would have worried unnecessarily and done precious little about it.
‘We are so small compared to this immense universe; what we do or don’t do makes no difference to existence. This insight takes you beyond time – and to go beyond time is to go beyond misery. To know the timeless is to enter into the world of bliss. You are the ancient one, the timeless one, the eternal one. So there’s no need to be worried about small things, no need to be too concerned about mundane things. They come and go. You abide. Remember- that which never comes and never goes, abides. That is the ultimate, and that is within you as it is within everybody else’.
Our problems get strength only from the importance we give them; we should learn to give them none. Simple exercises like gazing at the expanse of the sky or the sea will help us realize that we figure nowhere in the enormous scheme of things. Everything will then appear as small stuff.
Look at the Larger Picture
Dr. Sudhir Vinekar, a successful gynecologist, compares life to being stuck in a traffic jam. ‘When you are in it, you can see only the car in your front and your back. But if you are able to climb a skyscraper and look at the same scene, a bigger picture will be visible to you. You will see that traffic is stuck all the way up to a mile and it will not be cleared unless the huge boulder is moved. No amount of honking on your part will help move the traffic. Each day is jammed between yesterday and tomorrow, but it will pass; it’s not permanent, it is aniccha, as Buddha says. I know that the traffic is going to clear eventually!’
In the time-space continuum, everything is happening at once, but our sensory limitations make us experience them one at a time. Neale Donald Walsch, bestselling author of the Conversations with God trilogy, coins a beautiful term to describe life at a larger level – he says all events are happening ‘sequentaneously’, sequentially and simultaneously. A paradox, but what a comforting one! It suggests that right now we may be experiencing problems, but they have already been solved for us; we only lack the vision to look that far ahead. He says just one prayer is enough to get us through life – ‘God, thank you for already solving my problem for me!’
So things will sort out in their own sweet time, regardless of how much you resent it now. Getting a broader perspective will help us realize the limited role we ourselves can play to alter a situation. No event is stand-alone; it is invariably interlinked to various other situations and people. Realizing that you are merely a cog in the wheel will take a load off your back, and help you relax after you have done your bit. A leaky tap? Call the plumber and ignore it until he arrives. Computer breakdown? Get some other job done while it is getting fixed. Traffic jam? Don’t honk. Catch your 40 winks instead. Just surrender to the situation at hand.
Learn to Accept
To experience timelessness, one has to learn to surrender, accept and let go. Man is often in conflict because he refuses to accept reality, always wishing that things were otherwise. ‘If only…’, the mind goes on and on, ‘If only abc had happened, I would be xyz today…’ or whatever. Eckhart Tolle, in his book, The Power of Now, suggests a three-point formula to deal with unpleasant situations. He suggests that if you can remove yourself from an unpleasant situation, do so. If you can change the situation, change it. But if none of the above is possible, then accept it.
Living in denial is living in delusion, in an alternative reality. The tree that learns to sway with the wind survives. One can either flow with the current of life willingly, or be dragged along anyway, kicking and screaming. Acceptance is the only logical and mature way to deal with situations. Once there is acceptance, the mind relaxes and is willing to think of alternatives.
If you ask a physicist, you would be told that no experiments have ever been done that prove the existence of time.
All creatures on earth have the same amount of time, but man has the sense of time, because his thinking creates it. The play of the mind makes it look as though time is finite and momentary, whereas in reality time is infinite and eternal, as mentioned earlier. Time hangs heavily when one is unhappy, while, to the same individual, time flies when he is at ease with himself. Time is therefore the interval between two different experiences. The greater the number of experiences that flood the mind to agitate it, the faster time moves; while the longer the same experience continues, the slower moves the time.
In order to experience timelessness, one has to slow down one’s pace of work. Try to have one experience at a time for a longer period. To quote grandma, chew your food slowly, let your speech be slow and clear, your walk unhurried and measured. Just look at a cow chewing cud, how blissful it looks! Of course, the cow doesn’t have a power-point presentation to create in the next half-an-hour, but if it had to, I’m sure it would do so with the same deliberateness. Slow down, slow down, slow down! You’ll be surprised how much more efficient your work will be if you consciously slow down in body and mind. And to do it consciously, one has to practice awareness.
To be aware is to do everything with great deliberateness. Once, Buddha started to pat away a fly from his left shoulder, and halted midway. He then raised his right hand to his left shoulder deliberately, even though the fly had gone. When his disciple asked for an explanation, Buddha said that if he couldn’t swat a fly with awareness, how could he be aware of his thoughts? Being aware of every action is extremely difficult, for we are habituated to perform many of our tasks unconsciously.
The teachings in Zen are all about being mindful. Mindfulness in every action is called Ichigyo-Zammai or ‘One-act Samadhi’ in Japanese. Shunryu Suzuki in his book, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, illustrates, ‘When you bow, you should just bow; when you sit, you should just sit; when you eat, you should just eat. If you do this, the universal nature is there.’
‘Mindfulness is the act as well as the experience, happening at the same time.’
- Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Shambhala International
Most of us experience things like cold or heat, happiness or sorrow, but rarely are we aware that we are feeling that. Things always happen one at a time, in a direct, simple movement of mind. Therefore, in the technique of mindfulness of mind, one has to be aware of each single-shot perception of mind as thinking: ‘I am thinking I hear a sound.’ ‘I am thinking I smell a scent.’ ‘I am thinking I feel hot.’ ‘I am thinking I feel cold.’ Each one of these is a total approach to experience – very precise, very direct, one single movement of mind.
So try the Buddha way of doing things for at least five minutes a day – the Buddha walk, the Buddha talk and the Buddha face wash. It feels tedious at first, but by and by, the quality of your actions will improve dramatically, and mistakes will become fewer and fewer. An aware person will never forget to take his medicines or turn off the lights, or leave the keys in the car. True awareness will result in relaxation, and a relaxed mind is far more efficient than a tense one. With awareness, the whole body gets energized and tingles with consciousness. You feel alive, healthy, and raring to go. You can then work with your entire being, and not just with your mind. Just imagine how much more one can accomplish if all faculties are in full throttle. This is what I suspect Paulo Coelho means in his book, The Alchemist, when he says the whole universe will conspire to help you with your desires.
Drop the Mind
It’s a medically proven fact that 90 per cent of human diseases are psychosomatic, created by the mind. People feel stressed mostly because their minds cannot stop thinking and analysing. If sleep didn’t take over forcibly at night, mankind would surely be mad by now.
‘When thoughts attack us, we become victims of thoughts. It is like employing a servant and being thrashed by him. You should use the mind rather than let the mind use you. Generally we are dominated by thoughts… compulsive thoughts. When the mind is noisy, we feel burdened. The voice of the soul is nourishing, whereas the voice of the noisy mind is perishing. In order to hear the voice of the soul, one should put an effort to end the noisy mind.’
- Swami Sukhabodhananda
One way to drop the mind is to be aware of one’s thoughts. The very awareness can create a distance from you and your mind, and slowly, a quality of detachment will come to your thoughts and actions. All techniques of meditation are an effort to drop the mind and just be. Enough has been said about the benefits of yoga and conscious breathing to calm the mind and slow down time. To enter a space of no-mind is to enter eternity, which is always the present moment.
Be Here, Now
‘Where else will I be?’ is the general reaction to this new age cliché. But clichés got to be that because they are true. Ordinarily, we are everywhere at any given moment in time except living in that moment in time. Even as you are reading this, part of you is thinking something else. Our thoughts constantly dance between the past and future. Our lack of attention to the present moment is the greatest disservice we can do to ourselves, for only in the present moment can we have dominion over our actions, thoughts, feelings and words.
Says Eknath Easwaran in his book, Strength in the Storm, ‘Now is the only time there is. If we feel we don’t have enough time, the first thing to learn is not to waste the time we have.’
We especially waste time and effort by not giving our all to the work at hand. If we don’t show integrity and honesty towards the present moment, how can we expect life to show the same to us? Because life is all about here now, and it will give back to us what we put into the here now, in the same measure of what it receives from us here now.
So give whatever you are doing and whoever you are with the gift of attention. Realize that you are gifting yourself.
”In my kingdom of God, there shall be time no longer’ says Jesus. People living in the modern world also don’t have time, but they are not living in any Kingdom of God. While Jesus is talking about timelessness, which is eternal now, people of the modern world are living in the mind. For them time and mind are synonymous. One has to enter in a meditative space of No-mind to experience the space-time of eternal life, the Eternal Now. That’s where the Kingdom of God is – not somewhere in heaven but on this very earth, in our Consciousness’.
- Swami Chaitanya Keerthi, Oshoworld, Delhi
Timelessness is Deathlessness
‘To finish the moment, to find the journey’s end in every step of the road, to live the greatest number of good hours, is wisdom,’ says Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Hours make the young old. Sanskrit has only one word for both time and death, which is ‘kaal’. As soon as we are born, we take a step towards death every moment. We are born every time we breathe in, and die when we breathe out. Every moment is born and dead then and there, but man continues to go on living in the mind. Living each day as if it were the first, or the last, is the best way to live.
In the movie, Fifty First Dates, the protagonist has a peculiar amnesia…she forgets the events of the previous day and starts all over again, fresh, enthusiastic, with no baggage at all. She can’t remember who wronged her, who she couldn’t get along with, or what she couldn’t do well. Could be a bit awkward, but to live the spirit of the thought could be rewarding.
Or to do exactly the opposite, like in the case of the protagonist of the novel by Paula Coelho, Veronica Decides to Die. Once Veronica decides to die, she enjoys doing things because it’s the last time she’s going to do it, and she doesn’t much care for the next day. Both of them are dying to the moment, one to the past and the other to the future, and living the moment totally and completely; in the process, they enjoy life and feel timelessness.
‘Study as if you were to live forever. Live as if you were going to die tomorrow.’ Realizing that learning is a process of a lifetime(s), and living is the business of the moment, is wisdom. Making both work for us is intelligence.
To close with Jelaluddin Rumi again, ‘Let the water settle; you will see the moon and stars mirrored in your being.’ And to feel the infinite within you is to enter the space of timelessness, deathlessness.
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