All journeys of intellectual, emotional, and spiritual transcendence begin with the readiness of the seeker to open his mind and seek the hitherto unknown, discovers Satish Purohit
He, who after careful thinking, is ever ready to accept truth and reject falsehood; who counts the happiness of others as he does that of his own self, him I call just.
~ Maharshi Dayanand Saraswati
So, what does it mean to have an open mind? Here, in this article, it is used primarily in the sense of willingness to explore the ‘other’, the strange and the new; it is the act of walking naked into the ocean of infectious possibilities. It is an adventure and, like all adventures, it involves risk, but there is no treasure to be won without an adventure, is there? Most refuse to have an open mind because new realisations threaten old beliefs. The idea of change invokes fear in people. Humans, moreover, seek stability by belonging to a tribe and creating a place they call home, with romantic notions of a person who is one’s ‘forever’.
Only those who discover that notions like self, home, tribe, and motherland are constructs, open their minds to other possibilities. The world is not enough, and old answers, the borrowed truisms and scriptures soiled by worldly tongues are no longer enough either. Surrounded by this spiritual wasteland, the mind opens up and seeks. It begins to explore. This is why Mahavir wanders, the Buddha leaves home, and countless sages and rishis retreat into the forests, hills, and caves. They open their mind to infinite possibilities, and that, dear friends, is the beginning of all spiritual adventure.
There are, of course, ordinary mortals too who also undertake such adventures. As their disillusionment is small, so are their realisations. To begin with, I would like to share a bit about my own adventure with openness. It is about how I began my study of Urdu, a language that held my attention because it was a language of Muslims, the big ‘others’ of my imagination. It is therefore equally the story of my discovery of fellow human beings beyond the walls of prejudice. Ghulam Ali and Jagjit Singh’s ghazals opened up new ways of seeing, feeling and articulating for me as a teenager. This was my introduction to Urdu, the language of Mir, Ghalib, and Momin. It was then, as it is now, largely a language of Muslims, a people who ate, dressed, and worshipped differently from the people around me. This otherness of the Muslim was rendered even more stark by my deep attachment to the works of Hindu political thinkers like Vivekananda, Aurobindo, and the near worship of Chhatrapati Shivaji and his son Sambhaji by my Marathi neighbours. However, despite this, I had to learn Urdu, a language I had fallen in love with. Urdu is Hindustani/ Hindi steeped in Persian, Arabic, and Turkish vocabulary, mythology, and literary forms. So, I understood some of it thanks to my knowledge of Hindi, but I had to know more. I remember how fearfully I had walked into the mosque opposite Juhu garden in Mumbai. I was 19. I explained my mission to the first person I met on entering the mosque. It wasn’t yet prayer time, so there weren’t many people around. I was taken to the manager, an affable man. I repeated what I had said to the first man—I wanted someone to write the Urdu alphabet on paper for me. The gentleman, I forget his name, offered me a seat and patiently wrote down the alphabet along with the equivalent Hindi alphabet in the next column. I had requested five different people to do this for me and not even one had refused. He said he had read Tulsidas's Ramcharitmanas and was impressed with the values it espoused. The world would be a better place if people read each other's books with an open mind and embraced the shared values. I had just crossed an important milestone in this journey of openness, which has improved my speech, vocabulary, and aesthetics. My first Urdu poem Mumbainama was published in the Urdu daily Sahafat. I also had the good fortune of meeting several notable poets writing for Bollywood like Gulzar, Javed Akhtar, and Nida Fazli.
I believe that, in a certain sense, the self is not enough for alchemy to occur in the psyche. We need the other in the form of a book, a guru, a friend, a song, a mantra, or even a journey. The embracing of the strange, the new, the other is at the heart of being open. We need the other to challenge our assumptions, examine our prejudices, and extend the boundaries of what is possible for us. It is in that sense that the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke advised a young man who aspired to be a poet, “Make your ego porous. Will is of little importance, complaining is nothing, fame is nothing. Openness, patience, receptivity, solitude is everything.”
Openness is the key to growth, transcendence, and rebirth. Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev often speaks of the difference between the believer and the seeker. He who believes needs no proof. The seeker, on the other hand, may have placed his faith in a guru, a scripture, or a tradition but he stays open in his journey. His openness may take him to lands he had not intended to travel, but he bravely takes these detours in his stride and keeps at his search. It is in this spirit that it has been said that excessive devotion to the Buddha may itself be an obstacle to the achievement of Buddhahood.
Kill the Buddha if you meet him on the road, say the wise ones.
Returning to what Sadhguru recently said on the subject to a daily, about Indian spirituality: “Other people had a God, a fundamental belief that made them what they are. We are not believers. We are a land of seekers. We are not seeking God. We are looking for liberation.”
Openness as a key to transformation
Fifty-year-old Anish Savla, a businessman and author of a book based on the Patanjali Yoga Sutra titled Jagdusha and The Pirates of Oman, describes openness as the unemotional facing of facts in a manner that uncovers the reality behind those facts. “Openness is the passport to success in the mundane as well as spiritual world. A seeker with a closed mind is like a man on the shores of the ocean of grace with a pot that has no opening. This metaphoric ocean of grace is all around us. Most of us carry sealed minds that do not allow grace in the form of love, knowledge, or transforming energy to enter us. The closed mind sees all change as death, as it involves dying to the old self. The fear of openness is rooted in the fear of change, which is, in turn, rooted in the fear of death itself,” says Anish, who shared his own adventure with openness.
Anish was in his twenties when his life, as he knew it earlier, fell apart. Parties, alcohol, and chain smoking had ruined his health. Walking a few steps up a flight of stairs would leave him breathless. One evening, after panting upstairs to his home, he decided that it had to change. He began to seek experts in bodybuilding, martial arts, and yoga as well as scholars of sacred texts, to overhaul his life.
“I knew I had hit rock bottom as far as my personal, professional, and social life was concerned. I had realised the hollowness of the life I had been leading and wanted to change. This made me very attentive to the teachers who were kind enough to share what they had gathered after years of physical and mental discipline. I discovered spirituality through disciplines like karate and kalaripayattu, which have strong spiritual underpinnings. This led me to yoga, pranayama, and the Patanjali Yoga Sutra. My exposure to these disciplines changed me completely. My old friends began to lose interest in me because I was a changed person. The late nights, incessant drinking, and chain smoking were coming in the way of acquiring the physical health, mental peace, and spiritual grounding that I was looking for. Slowly, I gained control over these habits. The lesson, of course, is that the state of utter despair has its uses. Suffering opens one up to the futility of blind indulgence. Such a suffering pushes one to have an open mind because the mind, as it exists, is a source of pain. This is the time when one quits being a bhogi (indulger in pleasures of the senses) and turns into a yogi,” says Anish.
Thou shalt not judge
Open-mindedness helps us to be patient and not jump to conclusions about people. This enables us to forge bonds and enrich our life by the contribution of those who we otherwise would have ignored or rejected. The same holds true for contrarian views as well. If, instead of arguing to prove our point, we stayed open to understanding and receiving from those debating upon a topic, we would be so much richer by the end of it.
Rishi Rathod, a Rajasthani married to a Maharashtrian, was on a trip to Hissar in Haryana, on an important mission of the heart. His sister-in-law had fallen in love with a Haryanvi boy in Australia. Rishi was on a meet-the-boy’s-family trip to Haryana to work out the wedding details. Both families appeared to be making good progress on the bonding front except for one man. He was the groom-to-be’s brother-in-law who, for some reason, spoke to everyone except Rishi.
“It was disconcerting to have the man, who was rich, articulate, and also the cynosure of all eyes as he was the son-in-law, to ignore me completely. He appeared to be studiously ignoring me. My head swam with suspicions. Was it because he was so moneyed? Was it because he felt my opinion did not matter in the scheme of things being discussed? Maybe he had a thing against people from Rajasthan. But then I remembered the words of my guru who had asked me to be in the moment and respond to what is before my eyes and not to the stories in the head. I decided to give the man the benefit of the doubt despite my misgivings. The next day, inexplicably, he opened up, and when he did, it was amazing. He discussed not only the wedding but also offered some tips on the business of dealing in land that added to my knowledge on the subject. We are great friends now and when he came over to Mumbai, we had an opportunity to understand each other even better. This small incident taught me an important lesson in being non-judgmental. People take time to open up. One has to operate from a space free of prejudice and preconceived notions and be in the moment to see reality for what it is,” says Rishi, who adds that he was helped by this insight, in his work, in a big way.
Three months later, while learning important lessons on the art of negotiation from 38-year-old Santosh Ebroo, an expert on the subject, the insights learned in Haryana held Rishi in good stead. “I was expecting Santosh to deliver a corporate training programme. It became a little difficult to digest the insights when Santosh launched into an exposition of the human condition which I found quite vague. I would have quit the programme midway had I not learned my lesson in Haryana. I decided to stay in the moment and receive what was being given to me. As the hours rolled on, I learned that much of what had appeared far-fetched and unrelated to the topic was extremely useful for me as a parent, husband, and entrepreneur. For any interaction to be meaningful there has to be openness on the part of those interacting. Compassionate openness leads to deep listening to what is being said. This is very important to understand where the ‘other’ is coming from. It is important to understand the ‘pain’ of the person sitting across the table. Without such an understanding, no breakthroughs are possible in any negotiation,” explains Rishi.
So true. If both science and religion could be more open-minded and see life from each other’s viewpoints instead of feeling that they had the final word, the final authority, on matters pertaining to human life and the secrets of the universe, the collective growth achieved by the inhabitants of planet earth could be exponential, to say the least.
The world of art has acquired its depth and plenitude in terms of form and style simply because it is open to learning through inspiration. Saroj Suman, a music composer and expert on Indian folk music, who is also an initiated sadhak in the tantric tradition, says that it is the openness of a special kind—a profound openness to sensory information—that, in his opinion, imbues folk music with its deeply moving quality. “A master folk musician is at once a healer, a shaman, and a poet to his people. This is only possible for those who, while being rooted in the mundane, are also open to the world and its dancing energies. Openness makes it all possible,” says Suman, who pointed out that Bollywood, the most popular shaper of the Indian musical expression, is itself an example of great openness.
“To understand how the culture of openness contributes to Indian film music, we have to understand how folk music continues to add value to our listening pleasure. Plenty of songs such as Mohammed Rafi’s Tere pyaar ka aasra chaahta hoon are based on the traditional tune which is sung in the Mithilanchal and Terai regions of India and Nepal respectively. O haseena surme waali is based on the Rajasthani folk song Maari re mangetar. How poor would Bollywood be without this wonderful openness!” emphasises Suman, who describes Tantra as a powerful means of opening up our latent physical, mental, and spiritual potential.
Mirror, mirror of the mind!
The journey of self-growth cannot gain momentum unless seekers are open-minded enough to look within and introspect. One of the hardest but most rewarding things to do.
Neha Gupta, an organisational development trainer to corporates and founder of Alchemy of OD, an organisation that takes the holistic approach to building great teams, feels her open mind has been one of the greatest aides for her on her journey. “A mind and heart open to questioning dearly held beliefs, one’s identity, one’s persona, and carefully built protective shells have to be open to emotional upheaval when these walls crumble away. After all, on the journey of self-realisation, we have nothing to go by except our curiosity and our willingness to explore and accept with an open mind,” says Neha, who distinctly remembers one such incident, where years back, a value which she held very close to her heart was questioned. “A mirror was held up for me to see, that there is a gap between my self-belief and the real me!” says Neha, who had always believed that she was the same person in different situations and with different people.
“In one deep session with a guide, the awareness gently came to me that what I call authentic is only my definition! There are times when I unknowingly do the right things to fit into my surroundings. It can be unnerving to suddenly see the mirror and see a part of oneself one is not prepared to see! However, after the initial shock, denial, and confusion, my loyal companion—my open mind—came to my rescue. I took it slow and decided to be gentle with myself because my protective mechanisms were my ways of dealing with certain situations. Had I continued to judge myself for not being what I had thought myself to be, I would not have been able to move forward. However, slowly, I began with acceptance of this part of my self with compassion and understanding, and soon had a breakthrough. We are always ‘work in progress’ as long as we live. However, as a wise person once said, we are allowed to be ‘work in progres’' and masterpieces at the same time. An open mind is all we need,” smiled Neha.
Doctor and spiritual teacher Deepak Chopra, in his book The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success: A Practical Guide to the Fulfillment of Your Dreams, offers a helpful tip for those who wish to practice a life of radical spiritual openness, when he says, “Completely desist from defending your point of view. When you have no point to defend, you do not allow the birth of an argument.”
Let us conclude with the words of American journalist Tony Schwartz, who hints that openness is an act of accepting ourselves as we are: “Let go of certainty. The opposite isn’t uncertainty. It's openness, curiosity and a willingness to embrace paradox, rather than choose up sides. The ultimate challenge is to accept ourselves exactly as we are, but never stop trying to learn and grow.”
Mind-opening lessons from graphology
30-year-old graphologist and graphotherapist Chetna Teckchandani says graphology has taught her that an open mind is one that sees things as they are and not as how they should be. “How we describe ourselves may be what we want to project to the world. However, our handwriting does not lie as it is a direct reflection of our subconscious mind. Here are some tips for diagnosing how open you are to new ideas, relationships, and experiences and what to do if you discover yourself to be in need of remedial action:
> If you wish to check how open you are to the world, observe how you write your 'u' (pic 1)and 'y' (pic 2). These letters are designed to be open from the top. The broader the opening, the more receptive you are to information from the outside and greater the capacity for subsequent acceptance. If you find these alphabets to be too narrow and conclude that they are indicative of a certain defensiveness when it comes to accepting advice, knowledge, or wisdom from others, try drawing the 'u' pattern indicated in the picture repeatedly for seven minutes a day x 27 days. (pic 3)
> Openness in mind as well as in behaviour are strengths, but they can also turn into liabilities when it comes to giving space. Are you too pushy? Do you get so close to people that you and they do not have space to breathe freely? A sure sign that a person is prone to crossing interpersonal space without permission is that the handwriting includes the 'stem-sharing signature' (pic 4) or the ‘overlapping signature’ (pic 5). This may be remedied by working out a signature style that is more spaced out with your full name and last name and excludes stem sharing and overlapping.
> Openness, when it is interpreted as space for flexibility of response, can be deciphered from the slant of the handwriting. The slant is at the very core- programming of a personality and is often not to be touched during graphotherapy (changing thinking and emoting patterns by changing handwriting).
a. Left slanted: Emotionally withdrawn. “I don’t trust you or myself.” (pic 6 )
b. Right slanted: EmotionallyiImpulsive. “You can always rely on me; I am there to hear you out; I love to be loving.” (pic 7)
c. Vertical slanted: Balanced between the two. “Life is beautiful but, in the end, always use your head.” (pic 8)
> Closed loops of the alphabet 'e' reveal something important about your listening and retention skills. The cleaner and neater the core, the better you are at listening. A beautifully closed loop reveals the capacity to assimilate and use the wisdom that has been gathered through the open listening. (pic 9)
> If you keep your letter open-form at the bottom, it reveals excessive openness and an inability to retain secrets. This results in a loss of information, which leads to distorted experience. (pic 10)
If you find yourself stuck in a negative emotional groove, the Patanjali Yoga Sutra advises Pratipaksha Bhavana which involves invoking an emotion, thought, or feeling opposite to where one is stuck. If, for example, one experiences anger towards a person, one should attempt to bring the person's positive side to mind. This is a simple but effective means of rising above one's emotional groove and transcending it.
> Change the places you frequent, maybe your house or office, or if that is not possible, even your seat or your decor in some way. Meet new people with more elevated happy energies, so that your mind is challenged by newer ideas, thoughts, and emotions. Change the time you wake up and sleep. Explore avenues of creative expression like painting, bodybuilding, yoga, music, dance, or even gardening. The mind needs exercise to expand. Familiarity contracts the mind. There is no pot of gold without an adventure to the end of the rainbow. All these are a means to bring about the collapse of the boundaries of the ego, which is a must for expansion.
> The weakest muscle pains the most when you exercise. There is struggle in all things before you arrive at the flow. Keep doing your duty. Existence is a fair place. It bears fruits in the sweetness of time. It has its own logic and its own organic journey. It cannot be forced to flower or fructify by the ego. Keep working, as Krishna has suggested, and the fruits will come. Yoga, the ancient science of transcending the mind, suggests ‘self-effort, self-study and surrender to God’ as the essence of living out yoga. In the path of eight-fold yoga, as outlined in the Patanjali Yoga Sutra, all the eight folds are areas one has to constantly work on. They are not stages but limbs that have importance in the overall scheme of yoga. So, ‘self-effort, self-study, and surrender to God’ have to be areas of lifelong effort for the one who wishes to open, expand, and ultimately transcend their mind.
~ Dr Anuradha Iyer, teacher, singer, and author of Krishnapriya
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