By Aparna Jha May 2000 Each of these simple exercises is a challenge and a promise that when practiced regularly, will enhance the quality of life, health and relationships All of us carry an inner yearning or an impulse to evolve as human beings as well as fulfill our divine potential. In some of us this is a very strong desire, whereas in others it is as yet dormant. For those who are interested in personal growth I share below my observations and certain exercises, which I have found to be highly effective. In order to grow as a person it is necessary for us to cultivate certain fundamental qualities the most important of which are: Courage In my experience this is possibly the most important quality that we require. It takes courage to face ourselves, act on our personal truth and to admit our biases, prejudices and shadows. It takes courage to own total responsibility for our self, our thoughts, feelings and actions. Truth Self-awareness requires truth to understand and acknowledge what we really want, think, feel or desire, to admit our fears and insecurities. Compassion Without compassion, truth and courage can be crippling. Through compassion we can use truth and courage to reach the inner self, to bring clarity to our life and to build and strengthen relationships. It makes us nonjudgmental and more accepting of others and ourselves. The key question is: How does one get in touch with all these qualities? There are a huge and somewhat bewildering array of exercises, which can help cultivate these qualities. But they are rather time consuming. I am sharing with you certain effective yet simple exercises that I, over years of teaching, have found to work extremely well. Remember that these exercises are to be practiced every day without fail, and in the manner in which they are detailed. OBSERVE YOUR THOUGHTS Any time that you are by yourself and are relatively free, observe your thoughts for about 30 minutes everyday. Do this without judgment. Then write down your thoughts no matter how weird or disconnected. Over the next few weeks you will see certain patterns emerging. For instance, you may find that most of your thoughts are fear or anger-based, or they may be pessimistic or negative. Watch how much of your feelings are determined by the way you think. You will find that many of your feelings are not really your feelings at all—they are just thoughts you think. You may also find that many of your thoughts are not really thoughts at all, they may actually be your feelings. And strangest of all, it is likely that you will find that your thoughts are not original but echoes of things said or done in the past. In order to transform negative thought patterns into positive ones, take the following steps: As you become aware of negative thought patterns, anytime you find that you are entering or are in the middle of a pattern, switch off right there and then. Refuse to continue thinking along those lines. At first this may be difficult, but be persistent, it will pay off. Replace negative thoughts with positive ones. This will become much easier to do with practice. Sometimes just becoming aware of negative thought patterns dissolves them. In other cases, by consistently following the instructions given, you will be able to alter those thought processes. This is an extraordinary exercise. When you do this you will be amazed at how little you knew about what was going on inside of you. This is the best way to really get to know and understand yourself. In the process, your attitudes will automatically start shifting; you will be so much more at peace with yourself and with others. INCREASE COURAGE This can be the greatest stumbling block in the way of personal growth. It is of vital importance for you to understand that your first commitment should always be to yourself and to your growth. For this there has to be clarity within which enables you to follow the path of growth. A powerful way to increase courage is to maintain a journal in which you jot down all the things you feel need to be transformed in your life. Then write down all the reasons why you feel you cannot at present do this. Examine the list. How many reasons are valid? How many will disappear with time? How many will never change unless you do something about them? Is there anything, anything at all, that you can resolve? Be honest. Do you have the will to change things? Ask yourself: ‘If I had all the courage I need, what would I do to change this situation?’ Pretend you have the courage, and do it. Another effective technique is to look yourself in the eye (in a mirror) and repeat out loud 50 times with conviction: ‘I have the courage to ….’ or ‘I will and I can ….’. Do this everyday for a minimum of 6 weeks and you will find the will and courage to change the negative situations arising automatically within you. AWAKEN COMPASSION Now we come to compassion. We often like to think of ourselves as being compassionate. But honestly, how many of us are really compassionate, even towards our friends and acquaintances? How often have you said: ‘Poor so-and-so, how awful for him/her that X-Y-Z thing happened… but you know, s/he brought it upon him/herself…’ Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? True compassion arises from the heart and is empathic and nonjudgmental. Why don’t you start counting how many times a day you judge people, events and situations? How empathic are you regarding others and their situations? And how often do you act on your feelings of compassion? Write this down. The answers might surprise you! One of the ways to expand your heart is to give with no strings attached. When asked for help, never turn anyone away empty-handed. Help can be material or non-material-but always help people in a way that is appropriate to their needs. And remember, what you give with love will always return to you multiplied a hundred-fold. Another way to increase compassion is to put yourself in the place of someone you are at loggerheads with. Imagine you are that person, living his/her life, and view the situation from his /her point of view. If you do this with honesty it will shift your attitude regarding that particular person or conflict. While doing this note your inner responses: is there a lot of resistance or fear regarding this shift? If so, why? Ask yourself in what way you gain by holding on to a negative situation. It may have just become a habit. Very often we get accustomed to disliking/opposing or being in conflict with particular people, situations and events. If you find that there are relationships that are particularly negative and cannot be resolved right now, leave them alone for the time being. Come back to them later as and when you feel you can make a difference. We tend to get hooked onto negativity and inaction so watch that you don’t brood or obsess over them. To further awaken compassion be actively compassionate. Passive compassion doesn’t help anyone. Be kind, to yourself as well as to others. Put yourself out a bit everyday to do something really nice for yourself as well as for others. I am not speaking of things one does out of a sense of obligation, duty or routine, but something that you can do purely to express your caring and bring joy into another person’s day. It’s important not to grudge another person food or money. Very often we grumble about having to pay salaries or feed people. When you pay salaries, do it with joy and gratitude. The same goes for food. It is always a blessing to nurture the life of a fellow human being. As your self-awareness increases you will become acutely conscious of the mask that you don everyday. The more connected you are to your inner self, the more you realize that the persona you project is not the real you. At this point you will have to make a conscious decision as to whether you want to drop these masks and move on or not. Here, once again, you will need to summon up all your courage. Your true self is not clever, worldly-wise or guarded, so dropping your mask will make you far more vulnerable and open. Yet, paradoxically, the more connected you are to your inner self, the more powerful and centered you become. You may also choose to drop your masks gradually. DROP YOUR MASK If you have difficulty in actually dropping the masks even though you may wish to, practice always telling the truth about your innermost thoughts and feelings, where appropriate. Do this day after day until it becomes the norm for you. For example, if you have become aware that you normally exaggerate to impress others, stop yourself (in mid-sentence if necessary) every time you catch yourself doing this. Just carry on from there, telling the truth. Ask yourself why you do this, why is that particular mask necessary? What is it that you feel insecure about? Try and examine the fear governing the situation, accept it and acknowledge it. Say: ‘This is my fear, I acknowledge it.’ Then you will find it easy to transcend it. If you follow all these exercises carefully you will discover that virtually all stress is self-inflicted-nothing is good or bad but thinking makes it so. So refrain from judgment-particularly from all negative judgments about events, situations and people. As you watch your thoughts you will notice how your mind is perpetually going round and round in circles. Where there is a problem your mind compounds it a hundred times over. So if you are a chronic worrier or just have a problem to solve set aside 30 minutes a day to worry or to ponder over it, then stop. While mulling over a problem, be solution-oriented, don’t be negative. CONNECT TO YOUR INNER SELF Finally, here is a short but very powerful meditation to help you to connect to your inner self. You can either memorize the instructions or
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