By Anil Bhatnagar
Numerous personal growth techniques are available today. But for most of us, they seem to be placed on a pan without a flame. How to ignite our passion for self-growth, so that we can use the techniques of our choice to get some concrete results? How do we get ourselves to practice consistently and regularly? These are pivotal questions that most of us have not even begun asking
It is 7 a.m. Sudhir slips out of bed. His wife hands him the newspaper along with his morning tea. A little later, he manages to catch the chartered bus to office and congratulates himself for making it in time once again. He begins with a yawn (something that he will punctuate his day many times with) another day of files, papers, meetings, e-mails, telephone calls and gossip. At the end of the day, though he has not done anything substantial, he is quite tired.
Evenings are usually spent watching TV after a short post-dinner stroll with his wife and inquiring about their daughter. Sundays begin late and are spent socializing, long afternoon naps, reading magazines, watching TV or visiting his parents.
Sudhir’s life is not very different from that of his colleagues who are not as aware of the possibilities for self-growth as he is. He is forever postponing plans to give himself time to grow and realize his potential. As per a conservative estimate, there are over 70 million people like Sudhir whose life remains almost the same as others, though they have come to learn some personal growth technique. If only they would practice what they have learnt, this number is sufficient to trigger a ‘hundredth monkey’ phenomenon to raise the level of consciousness of the human race.
Thirty million people have learnt yoga, two million Sudarshan Kriya, three million have been initiated into reiki, one million have attended vipassana retreats. Tens of millions of people have read the bestsellers of Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra and Dale Carnegie. Many more throng to the lectures of spiritual teachers and watch them on television channels like Aastha and Sanskar. However, delicious food is futile where there is no appetite. Great self-growth techniques, gurus and books can help you provided you are hungry enough to use them.
Today we tend to outsource all our responsibilities to experts for a fee. There are event managers to organize every major event of our lives. So, we tend to even outsource spiritual growth to an organization or guru, not realizing that others can only serve the food; they cannot chew it for us. And we will chew, swallow and assimilate only if we have the appetite. Many among us never realize that merely learning a technique is of little use, if not practiced. Vikas Malkani, author, motivator and founder of Soulcentre in Delhi, emphatically says that nothing worthwhile is ever achieved without self-discipline and perseverance.
Human beings can drive out the essence from any system or practice and reduce it to trivialities that provide only the false psychological feeling of being ‘into’ it, absolving us from the trouble of understanding and living it. We turn every ‘food for the spirit’ into ‘food for our ego’. Look at the way we have become fanatics—trying to make the world switch to our religion and view of truth, even if at the cost of thousands of sacred lives—including our own! S.N. Goenka, the spearhead of the Vipassana movement, says: ‘Initially people with knowledge carried the flaming torch to spread light. With time the flames have got extinguished and what is left are mere sticks—and with these sticks we are beating each other.’ If only we could learn to live by our religion instead of for it!
We spend hours comparing the greatness of different spiritual gurus and practices, not realizing that proving the greatness of our master or technique in no way makes us any better than we actually are. God has not sent soldiers in us to protect a particular religion or belief system. He has sent a spark of Him within us, which needs to be discovered and lived till through its constant awareness we become ‘it’. The techniques, methods, gurus and scriptures are God’s gifts to achieve this purpose. The need to add labels (of having learnt this technique or the other, the gurus we have learnt from or the scriptures we have memorized) is the need of our false self. Our real self, the God self, does not need any of labels.
Think for a moment the body of knowledge available to the millions of Sudhirs if they could just start using it. What we need is not a new means to salvation, but an awareness, understanding and realization of all that we already have. Such awareness is essential to shift our focus from merely learning (and gratifying our ego thereby) to ‘practicing consistently’. D.R. Kaarthikeyan, former CBI director and now President of Life Positive, says: ‘I have total faith in practice. Theoretical knowledge is fine for the intellect. It is by emotional involvement and practice alone that the intended results follow. The faith comes from one’s being able to realize the benefits.’ When we allow the means to become more important than the goals, they cease to remain as means. One common denominator for all those who could realize their divinity has not been superior technique or guru but superior determination to stay on the path without losing sight of the ultimate goal.
The concept of a ‘path’ may not appeal to those who subscribe to Jiddu Krishnamurti’s view of Truth as a ‘pathless land’, reiterated recently by Eckhart Tolle. But not toeing a path and being in the ‘now’ also needs to be practiced.
All of us have the seed to become our real Being, but we forget to nurture it. Before we seek a guru, technique or ‘ism’, we need to fan this spark of intention into a wild fire of yearning that consumes the forest of our negativities. Without this, all tools and techniques are like a pan without a fire underneath. I am giving some concrete suggestions to keep you on your path, but reading these does not obviate your responsibility for ‘practicing them.
KNOW AND LOVE YOURSELF
Results come from doing, not merely by knowing or learning. Then why is it that many of us care only to know and not use what we learn with so much effort? This is because we might have reasons other than self-growth for learning anything.
We might want to break life’s monotony or impress others. We might not want to be left behind in the race, or seek to prove ourselves different, even fill the vacuum that our ego feels. Above all, we might learn for letting others know that we have learnt it and thereby have their approval. These factors do not help us stay on our path because the purpose of learning gets fulfilled the moment we acquire a label.
Why are we more concerned about others’ approval than with actually transforming ourselves? Because we don’t love ourselves enough. We choose to live an eventless life for the fear of failure. We want to fulfill our dreams without working for them. So we either disown our dreams or scale them down. Such compromises create a spiritual void within as our soul’s longing to fulfill its real purpose is ignored. It is easier to be lazy and even easier to merely exist than to live a vibrant life. The difference between those who choose to exist, and those who choose to live, is that of motivation. You could be either. To be among the inspired ones, you need to make a conscious choice.
Your doubt as to whether things will work out often stands between you and your dreams. Doubt this doubt. Trust the universe and your divinity. The way to a fulfilled life is the way that gets us closer to universal spiritual principles. When we grow spiritually we grow on all fronts as a ‘whole’.
I was once asked how I managed to practice what I had learnt and also learn new things. I replied: ‘Just by loving myself enough!’ Stand in front of the mirror every morning and smile. Say many times that you love yourself, and feel it deeply. Say that you value yourself immensely and hence will utilize this present moment as a priceless opportunity for spiritual growth.
What you usually give your time to shall stay here in this world. It will not add any value to the real you that survives your physical death. To invest in spiritual growth is the wisest, for its fruits are permanent. They may or may not be as tangible as material things, but they stay with you whether your body stays or not. Make no compromises on that!
BECOME AWARE OF TORQUES ACTING ON YOUR LIFE
Sangeet Srivastava, a senior executive in a PSU who has learnt yoga, pranayam and reiki, says that he repeatedly resolved to be regular with his practice but failed every time. Says he: ‘The least I feel like doing reiki is when I am stressed and need it the most.’
What people like Sangeet need is a reinforcement of their ‘Growth or ‘G Torque’ and weaken their ‘Status Quo or SQ Torque’. These are my terms for the two forces eternally acting upon us, to maintain ‘status quo’ or to ‘help us grow’. Let me explain.
When we open a tap by applying anti-clockwise force, we work against a clockwise frictional force that keeps the tap shut. The tap will start opening only if the force being applied is stronger than the clockwise frictional force. In physics, forces that enable us to rotate an object about its axis are known as torques. The size of the torque is a multiple of the intensity of force being applied and its distance from the axis about which the rotation is taking place. This means that the other factor remaining the same, the larger the intensity of the force or larger the distance from the axis, the more the torque.
In our lives too, two similar but opposing torques are in action. One is the force that keeps us in ‘status quo’—thoughts that focus on the pain involved in working for change for growth, and the pleasure of liberating us from feeling the need for bringing about the change, and hence from the hard work involved. The other force is constituted of forces that move us along the spiral of spiritual growth and involve thoughts that focus on the pain of remaining stuck in our limitations, and the anticipated pleasure of achieving joy, bliss and freedom if we work towards change.
In the lives of people who feel stuck, Status Quo torque is stronger than growth torque. What they need are not powerful techniques for spiritual growth but creating a strong enough growth torque to overpower and vanquish the SQ torque. Every time you catch yourself thinking a thought that fuels SQ torque with its focus on consequential instant pain and instant pleasure, replace it with a powerful visionary thought of the consequential distant pain and distant pleasure that fuel the growth torque. Think them with great emotional intensity many times during the day.
Interrupt yourself often to ask what you are focusing on. Make the necessary correction if you find yourself focused on instant pain and pleasure instead of the distant pain and pleasure. Remember, a caterpillar becomes a butterfly only when it dares to shed the security of the familiar cocoon.
PREPARE YOURSELF MENTALLY
It is important to make mental pathways with your right brain for all that you intend to practice regularly with your left-brained will. Trying to tread the path without these mental pathways and visualizations is like driving in a desert without a map. Rajendra Goel, senior manager in SAIL, who has been practicing yogasanas for the last 26 years, says the practice helped him become mentally stronger and spiritually calmer. He says that it is important to prepare mentally before starting a new personal growth practice.
Often, people do not think too deeply about the effort and time required on a regular basis for self-growth techniques. So when the novelty wears off, they can no longer bring themselves to do these things day in and day out and eventually stop ‘practicing Goel recommends that before picking up any practice, we should make sure that the whole routine makes sense to us and we accept it fully.
STOP HANKERING AFTER THE ‘NEW’
A rolling stone gathers no moss. Trust yourself and the path you have undertaken and stick to it wholeheartedly. Many among us might not be able to trust our decisions or might be looking for amusement in the garb of spiritual growth. Subhadra Gupta, an ex-manager with SAIL, says that there are too many options available today—reiki, tai chi, yoga, feng shui—and people are confused. They keep switching from one to another without waiting for results. Agrees Hema Ramakrishnan, a homemaker who cured herself of an auto-immune disease through reiki, yoga, meditation and naturopathy. She says: ‘To pursue the spiritual path one requires patience, determination and will power, and also faith in whatever one is ‘practicing People want quick results. The moment they don’t see tangible results, they drop out. When you tread the spiritual path, the progress is initially slow and imperceptible. You have to be patient, have faith, discipline and regularity. Results are bound to come.’
A journey of thousand miles begins with the first step.
—A Chinese proverb
USE INTUITION TO CHOOSE PRACTICES SUITING YOU
There are so many practices that we may find it difficult to select one. Begin with one minor one from each of these—physical exercise, breathing exercise and meditation. Then pray for guidance. It is best to begin with whatever you can do. Hema says: ‘People should not venture into many practices at the same time. It would be difficult to do justice to all. When results are not forthcoming, people get disheartened. It would be advisable to pick just one (or two), and try to pursue them religiously.’
Rajendra Goel says: ‘In order to stick to a particular technique, the first thing I ensure is that I can control, if not all, then most factors important for regularity. For example, it is easier to jog every day than play badminton for the simple reason that you need another person for badminton.’
Sukhdeepk Malvai, reiki master and corporate trainer, has been on the path since 1982. He regularly practices vipassana, falun dafa exercises and Sudarshan Kriya. His advice to the indecisive is: ‘Do not be like those who try out various practices and whose never-ending quest seems to be for some magic solution to all their problems. Listen to your heart and see which practice can be easily integrated into your normal schedule. This is what you will easily practice Choose it and build it into your routine.’
Vikas Malkani, for whom treading the path is a ‘choiceless choice’, says that in the ancient days, an aspirant would know where he wanted to go, for choices were few and there was complete surrender to one master. Nowadays, spirituality has become a huge supermarket; there are so many masters and techniques. New Age literature though welcome, has confused many. His advice is that we need to believe in our divinity and our inner self. He recalls the advice of the Buddha: ‘Be a light unto yourself’, and says that the answers can appear not only in the inner world but in the external world as well, hence one needs to keep one’s mind open at all times.
WHAT IS REALLY IMPORTANT AND WHAT APPEARS URGENT
We always find time for what is important. However, what seems important at the time may not actually be so if we are not in touch with our real needs. Like almost every irregular sadhak whom I spoke to, Meena Saxena, a Delhi-based schoolteacher, blames external circumstances. Though she has learnt both reiki and Sudarshan Kriya, she is unable to do them regularly because often, when she has just settled down to do her sadhana, there are interruptions, like phone calls or visitors. On being reminded that she could do reiki after initiation for the mandatory 21 days in spite of all these things, she admitted that at that time there was a compulsion and even now, when her knees ache, she gives herself reiki. When there is no compulsion, she is driven mostly by the dictates of the external world and not by an inner resolve.
Gagan, a senior finance executive for a gas company, admits that his irregularity is simply a result of lack of resolve and misplaced priorities. He admits that the very purpose of life is to grow spiritually but we often allow it to take the backseat. When we have no important goals we always have enough urgent but insignificant things to keep ourselves busy with—simply because it is much easier to do so and too difficult to make an effort and do otherwise.
Whereas ‘urgent’ things catch our immediate attention, important things do not act upon us; we need to act upon them. For example, if we do not go for a morning walk or do not do our daily meditation or yoga, we will never be questioned or forced to do them. But if we consider them important, we will have to make way for them in our daily schedule on our own.
When you start attending to important things you will have lesser emergencies to firefight for. When you do not do so, you may never even begin seeing what is really important in your life. When we do not know our real needs, we do not have a daily plan to fulfill them. When we do not have a plan for the day, we, by default end up spending the day fulfilling others’ plans.
We fail to know and act on what is important to us because we usually do not stay in touch with ourselves. For this, we need to spend some time in silence. It is during these intervals that our spirit will whisper to us its real needs. And if we ask, it will tell us how to fulfill them as well.
EARMARK DAILY TIME SLOTS AND VENUE FOR YOUR PRACTICE
Never fail to be at the right place at the right time for giving time to your practices. Do not do other things during this time and place. Stay focused. Even if it requires going to bed early, do so in order to steal a big enough time-slot to accommodate your major and most important spiritual practices first thing in the morning, for mornings alone are yours. In terms of time too, this is more economical. If you can steal this morning slot for yourself, you will be happy that before you have begun your day, you have already accomplished one or two of the most important jobs of the day.
Unless you habitually accomplish key activities that advance you on your path first in the day, you will end up filling your day with insignificant or futile activities. If you do not put first things first, you fail to find any time for them throughout the day in spite of best intentions. Having done your practice in the morning, you have the rest of the day to be a spiritual person from whom godly words and godly actions alone emanate.
If you are about to miss your daily practices on a particular day, reschedule them immediately. If possible, you can do it while waiting in a queue or while commuting to the urgent meeting or you may have to cut down on reading the newspaper or watching TV to make time for it. If at all you miss it for reasons beyond you, make a vow that you will not miss it the next day. Make it a rule that you will never miss your sadhana on two consecutive days.
Do not let small chunks of time go waste either. Make it a habit to use these for repeating powerful affirmations, visualizations, contemplation, prayers, or reiki. If it takes 10 minutes for you to fall asleep, plan to go to bed 20 minutes before and lo! You have added to your day another half an hour of reiki, or whatever else you find appropriate. Get in the habit of identifying and stealing smaller chunks of time during the appropriate points of the day.
Enroll yourself for a chartered bus or car pool so that at least on the days you are not driving, you can use your commuting time to watch your breathing or feel the sensations in various parts of your body and visualize them getting bathed with a golden yellow light that is driving out all the toxins wherever this light permeates. Tying a handkerchief around your eyes while doing this might help you not only to concentrate, but to focus on what you intend to do. It shall also signal to your co-passengers that you intend to use this time for yourself and not for entertaining them with gossip. Alternatively, you can use this time to watch your thoughts or practice switching off mental chatter. You can also use this time to visualize your goals being fulfilled. After coming home, steal half an hour for bathing and doing Yoga Nidra, Sudarshan Kriya, Surya Namaskar, tai chi or whatever you intend to do.
Before falling asleep, quickly review the day’s activities. Start with what you were doing a few minutes before coming to the bed and moving towards the morning recall all that you did, thought or felt during the day. This will strengthen your memory and reduce your sleep hours apart from helping you sleep soundly.
KEEP A RECORD OF YOUR SPIRITUAL SADHANA
Recording your progress brings awareness of what you are doing and lets you know where you need to pay more attention. My experience is that when you jot down everything you do in the day (keep a dated diary and pencil handy) you will be surprised to learn that you are not as regular in your practice as you would like to believe. This practice would also let you know if and how you waste your day in fruitless activities and make you realize the hollowness of your excuse that you do not have enough time.
The first step to being regular is to become aware of your irregularity and the seriousness of it. Feel the loss that is being incurred every day. Feel how you are letting a great opportunity slip out of your hands every minute. Ask yourself throughout the day: ‘Is this worth my time? Does it gel with my life purpose? Will it advance me on my path? Does this activity show my love for the God who is in me and is the real me? Whether spending my time on this activity represents the love of the God within for all that exists or whether it contradicts it? Does it please the God within or is it meant to please my ego? Will I regret spending my time on this activity or will I cherish it?’ Identify the activities that can make you progress on your path and determine how much time you need to allocate to them every day, every week or every month.
OVERCOME SELF-DEFEATING HABITS, TEMPTATIONS AND ADDICTIONS
Sukhdeepak Malvai says: ‘The commonest reason why people do not practice what they learn is because they simply return to their old habit patterns. To combat this, set goals for the day with time frames-initially easier ones, then progressively difficult ones.’
Instead of waiting for the day when you will supposedly have more time and other resources, start right away with whatever time you can spare and with whatever resources you have and pray for improvement and expansion. Plan your day before you begin it-preferably the night before-and visualize yourself sticking to the schedule comfortably. There are more chances of temptations overpowering you when you have no compelling reasons to be busy doing something.
Many times during the day, focus on how you feel upon giving in to your favorite temptation, or any habit that derails you from your path. Do this even when the temptation is not troubling you at that particular time. This strengthens your ‘awareness-muscle’ and enables you to use it more efficiently. In fact, as the awareness muscle becomes stronger, the temptations shall go on diminishing.
GUARD YOURSELF AGAINST PROCRASTINATION
In your daily practice, be like the river that does not recognize any obstacle. It turns left or right or simply climbs over the obstacle. If there is no way, it makes one for itself. The very commitment to its mission is its driving force. It does not require any other source of energy.
Don’t wait for the right time to come. Make a way for yourself, if you cannot see one already, right now. The right time will never come if you don’t find the present moment to be the right moment. No other moment will be any different from the present one. Problems, commitments and obstacles may change their shape and content but life is never without them for anybody at any stage. All your limitations, fears and obstacles are your own creations. You have created them and you alone can get rid of them. There is nothing more important in your life than staying on your path and growing spiritually.
EMPOWER YOUR WORDS
Words are sound symbols representing concepts and images. Every time you fail to follow through your words, you deprive them of their meaning and reduce them to mere sounds. Unfortunately, this not only takes away power from your words but also from you, as your subconscious keeps getting evidence of their emptiness.
When you do what you say, your words get strengthened with power to manifest themselves. This means that the more you do what you say, the more chance there will be of what you say or intend happening. To do this, start on one simple thing and follow it through with corresponding action. Do this for many days till it no longer remains a challenge for you to follow your words through. Repeat with progressively harder resolutions. This will empower your words, and you.
By empowering your words, you will develop faith in yourself and with this shall begin your romance with yourself. From this will spring forth a burning desire to make a ‘life’, not merely a ‘living’. You will then transform your life as the motivation to stay on the path will come from deep within.
Replace words and phrases like ‘if’, ‘perhaps’, ‘maybe’, ‘I’ll try’, ‘probably’, ‘it’s likely’ with more definite words like ‘I’ll do it’, ‘absolutely’, ‘definitely’, ‘certainly’, ‘positively’. This gives your intentions and words power to manifest. People, families, cultures, organizations and countries that display this empowerment of words progress rapidly.
‘The good of the whole must begin with the good of the individual…you help the world when you help yourself…So start with yourself.’
—Jason Andrews in The Superbeings
LIVE ACCORDING TO SPIRITUAL PRINCIPLES
Life cannot be divided into spiritual and ‘non-spiritual’ hours. Some people find it easier to do their sadhana during a particular time, leaving them free to do what they consider mundane, material, casual, or unspiritual the rest of the day. We should never forget that our spirituality is not indicated by how many hours we devote to our sadhana but by the level of awareness these hours render to the rest of our day.
To feel connected to everything around you, first accept everybody and everything as it is. Give up the habit of judging, evaluating and criticizing people and events. Instead of working against so-called undesirable things, start appreciating or working for what is desirable. For example, instead of criticizing corruption, start appreciating honesty and integrity wherever you find it and practice it in your own conduct.
THE PROBLEMS IN YOUR LIFE ARE OPPORTUNITIES FOR GROWTH
Creative thinking simply means the realization that there is no particular virtue in doing things the way they have always been done. Don’t live your life the way you have been living if you want new results. The hunger to learn and improve increases the more you satisfy it. If you spot even a single area or problem of your life that interests you, try to satisfy its hunger. Hunger shall give rise to more hunger and then still more till it overflows into other related areas.
Improvement leads to perfection, though it stretches over a lifetime. Go on striving, for in perfection, there is no ‘arriving’. ‘If you take up any activity, discipline or skill, push it as far as it will go, push it to the wildest edge of the edges, then you force it into the realm of magic,’ said Tom Robbins, the famous psychologist. The same holds true for you too, if you take up reiki, tai chi, yoga or any other spiritual practice that you choose to transform your life on all fronts. This is what life is for—to enjoy the bliss of learning new and unknown things and seeing the scope of improvement in the known things. Life would be a drab and exhausting journey otherwise.
Apart from choosing to improve constantly, also choose to solve your problems and not keep them as they are. When you solve them, you grow intellectually and spiritually.
LEARN FROM FAILURES AND PERSEVERE ON YOUR PATH
Know that you can do it! We need to be prepared for distractions, hindrances, challenges and obstacles on the path. The spiritual journey has its ups and downs. Again and again, our spiritual journey may bring us face to face with our own reality, which might not be very pleasant. However, it not only needs to be confronted and accepted honestly, but needs to be overcome too. There are no obstacles in our path except we ourselves. And the ones who conquer these obstacles are also no others except we ourselves. By becoming obstacles we give ourselves the opportunity to grow progressively stronger till we become the Buddha—our very best!
v We know we are a stumbling block to ourselves when we:
• lose our sense of balance and sense of priority
• get carried away by destructive emotions and self-defeating reactions
• focus on the momentary pleasure and refuse to see the lurking pain underneath
• seek guidance from external rationality and refuse to listen to our inner voice
• seek to see before we would believe instead of believing what we are bound to see
• become successful and famous at the cost of our ethics and conscience
• become impatient for results and forget to walk the stretch that is due for today on our path
• focus on momentary external praise or avoiding criticism instead of trying to become what we want to showcase ourselves as
• set impotent goals for our lives instead of giving our 100 per cent; and feeling that nothing may actually matter much and thus giving in to laziness, lethargy and depression
• sell our faith in the intangible Truth to the sensual clarity of tangible ephemeral untruth or maya
• blame others, think and intend ill of others and refuse to take responsibility for our lives.
The one who has conquered himself is a far greater hero than he who has defeated a thousand times a thousand men. —Dhammapada (Sayings of the Buddha)
We strengthen ourselves when we:
• watch our posture, breathing, bodily feelings, intentions, responses, decisions, motives, thoughts, speech and actions with honesty and humility
• see the truth that nothing lasts, whether suc
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