By Suma Varughese December 2013 All growth is effortful but if you focus on what you will gain, and not on what you will give up, it will be easier for you to pursue that activity, says Suma Varughese The Sathe family was sitting around their dining table one Sunday evening. Mom had put out a fantastic spread, inspired by the Masterchef episodes she had been viewing. There was a Greek salad, a moussaka and a delicious dessert of tiramisu. Dad had helped himself generously. Now he had a rueful expression on his face. “Yourcooking skills are going to be the death of me, Abha,” he groaned. “I have put on so much weight that I can hardly fit into my clothes.” “You can always choose how much to eat,” retorted Mom tartly. She herself never gained weight and ate most judiciously. Dad, however, was fond of his food and could not resist indulging in it. “Why don’t you resume your morning walks,” urged Mom. “You used to love them, and they kept you nice and trim.” Dad groaned once more. “Waking up at 5 am every morning seems such a sacrifice. I really enjoy my morning snoozes.” “Why don’t you look at what you will get, instead of looking at what you will give up?” asked Ajoba. Dad looked up, interested. “That is a good question. Actually, there is so much I will get. Quite apart from the badly needed exercise, it is such a joy to be out early in the morning, listening to bird song, smelling the fresh air, and simply communing with nature. Thanks, Baba. I will start my morning walks from tomorrow itself.” Ajoba smiled. “All of us do this, Ashwin,” he said.”There is, first of all, an inbuilt resistance to trying out new things, and getting out of our comfort zone. That is why we protest and think up reasons why we should not do this and that.” “What a price we pay in terms of growth,” said Dad, ruefully. “There were so many things I wanted to do but did not because I was too lazy to do so. I wanted to learn Spanish, I wanted to learn ball room dance, I wanted to do a course in mythology… none of which I have done so far.” “You can still do them,” pointed out Mom. “That is true,” said Dad, brightening up. “Actually, Dad, I think I am like that too,” said Avijit. “This friend of mine plays the guitar brilliantly, and I have been wanting to do the same. He has even told me that he will teach me, and I have even bought myself a secondhand guitar, but those classes have still not begun.” Dad smiled, “The Buddha said that all growth is like swimming upstream. It is effortful.” “But Dad,” said Avijit, “Not everything is effortful. For instance, if someone were to ask me to see a film or go for a picnic, I would be out of the house like a shot. So how come I resist it when it comes to playing the guitar?” “Those are the little tricks the mind plays,” smiled Ajoba. “You see films and picnics are something the mind likes, so it will immediately employ its imagination to create a desire for it which will then give you the energy to fulfil the desire. But learning things is hard work, and the mind resists it. So it will paint pictures instead of all that you will have to give up.” Nisha grinned, “Every time I have to study for an exam, I begin to think of all the TV shows I am going to miss, the chats with my friends that I will forego and so on. And after the exams are over, and I am free to watch TV, I find most of the time I would rather not.” “There is a twinned concept called Preya and Shreya in Vedanta,” said Ajoba. “Preya consists of pleasurable activities that ultimately are not in our best interests – smoking, drinking, eating heavy food, going to night clubs, and so on. The mind enjoys these activities, and our desire for them can become so strong that whether we want it or not, we find ourselves driven to fulfil them. Shreya, on the other hand, is initially painful and hard – like learning something, taking up an exercise routine, giving up smoking and so on, but ultimately, it gives us joy. Preya gives us pleasure to begin with and ends in sorrow. Shreya begins with pain and ends in joy. Those who follow Preya will eventually end up with regrets and sadness, for their lives will be filled with suffering. Those who follow Shreya will find every fulfillment and joy coming to them.” “Wow,” said Nisha. “What a fantastic concept, Ajoba. But it’s not easy to follow Shreya, is it?” “No, it’s not,” said Ajoba, “which brings us back to what we began with. In order to make it easier to follow Shreya, we need to fill our minds with pictures of what we will gain. Ashwin needs to fill his mind with the joy of the morning walk, and the satisfaction of losing weight, fitting comfortably into his clothes and knowing that he is capable of taking care of his health and fitness. Avijit needs to fill his mind with the joy that he will get in being able to enjoy a creative activity like playing the guitar, the self-esteem that he will gain in acquiring a new skill, and so on. Then it will be easier to fix those classes and attend them. And always remember that it is effortful to do something new. This is because we are going to have to create new synapses and pathways in our brain. The more we do these activities the more effortless they become – and soon you will be playing with great joy!” “Thanks, Ajoba,” said Avijit. “I am going to fix those classes right now, and each time I waver I am going to think really hard about all that I am going to gain. And by the way, I now have a new role model and guiding light. It is the little lady called Shreya.” Dad guffawed, “And just stay away from that hussy, Preya!”
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