Learning to Breathe…

A few years ago, I attended a yoga retreat in California and the most important thing I learnt there, was to breathe! Doesn’t it sound ironic – we have been breathing all our lives and yet, are we sure we know how to do it!

If you are stressed or distracted, you will notice that you are probably not breathing right, and in some cases (as in mine!), you even stop breathing. That’s what noticed in that retreat. I was going through a time of immense personal stress. And as I brought attention to my breath in their sessions – I realized there were long periods when I was holding my breath. Kind of like tightening your fists – a good indicator of stress!

Just that pure awareness of breathing brought a profound epiphany and relief in me. There was a joy of breaking through the clouds and seeing the rays of sunshine. Through the years after that, I have made a conscious effort to notice my breathing and see what it says about my mental state! Your body is the best indicator of your mind and your wellbeing – so pay attention.

So take a pause and notice if you are doing it right. If you are breathing, here is what you should be doing:

  • As you breathe in, your stomach should come out – breathe all the way to your solar plexus
  • As you breathe out – bring your stomach in. Your out breath would be longer than your in-breath
  • The breathing should be conscious but not deliberate

Breathe into Enlightment

You do not need any other wisdom to ground you. Your own breath and your body are there for your enlightenment. So go on – learn to breathe the right way, and see how it changes your awareness and your mental state!

It has for me!

Experience Robs us …

After many years, I attended a Startup event a couple of weeks ago. It was a simple yet well-orchestrated event with early startups presenting their ideas passionately – each believing that they have the next best thing to change the world.

But lo, when the demos started, I caught myself experiencing a strange mental pattern. With each demo, my mind started rejecting them – finding reasons as to why that idea or product will not succeed. My mind failed to see what these entrepreneurs experienced or wanted the world to experience.

Flashback 15 years ago! I was in their same shoes and same mental state – believed that my idea was the best and I was out to change the world. So what happened here!!!

Beginners Mind - Shunyru Suzuki
Zen Way to Life

Thankfully my practice of mindfulness helped saved the night for me. I caught my mind making such judgments and promptly focused on what was driving it to do so. It dawned on me, that my path in life over the past many years had colored my view of the present. The past was controlling my present – experience had made me a skeptic!  It gave me the insight that my experience was a costly tradeoff, and it had robbed me of wisdom and many vital aspects that were integral to my enjoying the present:

  1.  The Idea of Possibility: One of the key strengths we all have as a rookie is the thought that whatever we think is a possibility. I still remember starting out as an inexperienced sales person in my 20s – trying to sell my startup idea to companies. At that time, the thought that whatever I was doing was an impossibility never arose. It was during that time, that my most innovative ideas came to fruition! Unorthodox partnerships, innovative bootstraps, and marquee clients. During all those years, never was there a thought nor a whisper that the endeavor we were after was a fool’s dream. Such was the openness of inexperience!
  2. The Naiveté of Ability: A fresh kid out of school with a few years of corporate experience and no family business background in startups! That should have convinced any right-minded person that we were punching above our weight. No idea of managing people, let alone clients and finances. But interestingly, the lack of baggage or ability turned out to be a fertile ground for exploring new strengths. That’s when I figured out that my ability to ideate, connect and communicate was a key strength that I had overlooked all this life. This experience gave me the confidence to acknowledge the abilities that were buried deep within me. Like they say, a blank page s the best way to start a story. And for me the naive assumptions about my abilities allowed me to discover who I am and what good lies buried within me.
  3. The Presence of “NO-Fear”: I wish I could stand here and say that the venture went on to become a flourishing success. It definitely had its great moments (maybe even days:), but inexperience took its toll and it was shuttered in a few years. But in that failure, I learnt my biggest lesson – that I was not afraid to fail. In fact even today, that experience stands amongst my best in life – all the way from the people I met, the things I learnt and the roads I traveled. In all my years of corporate life post that, i haven’t been able to replicate the learning I have had in that few years of starting up.

An important learning is that when we step out of our comfort zone and forget who we are, that’s when we give ourselves room to discover who we can be! The startup may not have been a success by traditional metrics, but for me, it was what defined my outlook in life and created a pivotal experience for what I am today!

As I stand here today, i am very grateful over the past few years of mindfulness practice that i have been able to discover the wisdom of “inexperience” And can only hope that i don’t let experience rob me of my possibility, ability and no-fear whenever I embark on anything new in life! Or to paraphrase Shunryu Suzuki – Begin each day with a Beginners Mind!






You Dont need to be Happy to be Joyful!

Joy seems to me a step beyond happiness. Happiness is a sort of atmosphere you can live in sometimes when you’re lucky. Joy is a light that fills you with hope, faith and love. – Adela Rogers St. Johns 

Since birth, we have all been waiting for the perfect conditions to be happy. Like most, I am equally culpable of this thinking. As a child, we have felt that getting admitted to the right school will make us happy. From then starts the cycle – a good school, a perfect job, right relationships, soaring career, financial success etc. Has that made us any happier?

My honest realization, a big NO! But I have experienced happiness in a form devoid of any of the above. In fact that moment or year was the low point of all material achievements for me. And that’s when I experienced a form of happiness – which I learnt to call JOY. A form of happiness that is devoid of any material goalpost that the world would want to celebrate, but nevertheless a feeling of happiness.

The year was 2011 and it had been a few years since an unexpected divorce. I had just come off some wrong relationships and was highly vulnerable. That was the year that I let myself free of any preconceived notions of how life should be, and focused on how life is. It was not a matter of choice but rather an endpoint in my situation – a crisis that I had reached. (Sometimes the best decisions are not a matter of choice but a rather of acceptance!). It was the realization that all my life I was living a life built on preconceived notions and fears. Fears of being judged, fear of being lonely – heck even the fear of being termed wrong. When I let go of these fears and accepted my life-situation as it was, it became truly liberating. There were suddenly new rules to explore and new ways to live.

That year is still etched in memory as probably the best year in my life. It was a year where I stepped back in my career, spent time with myself and experienced many things as a party of one! Met new friends, let go of inhibitions of what I should be and above all traveled to places a lot. Took a five-day road trip down PCH 1 all by myself, met people at restaurants, spent time with books on beaches, and got lost and found JOY. In fact, contrary to my old  self – I did not even book hotels ahead of time (on a busy thanksgiving weekend!).It is still etched in memory as one of my best trips ever. Another time, I even traveled on an impulse to Pikes Peak over a weekend and saw the sunshine burst through the clouds. Ended the year with a beautiful meditation retreat with the Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh.

A few things I realized through that year in my journey towards JOY:

  1. For most of us, JOY as a symptom cannot be discovered unless we have reached the bottom of any crisis we are going through. You have to reach the absolute nadir of your life; you have to realize that Acceptance of your situation is your only true option. And you have to come to peace with it.
  2. And therein lies the silver lining amongst the dark clouds. Acceptance is a necessary condition for JOY to be born. You have to accept your flaws, your life; take responsibility for it (mind it — responsibility and not blame) and truly believe that whatever has happened was the only way life could have happened to you. Acceptance has to be accompanied by self-love and not by futility.
  3. Let go of all expectations of how you lived your life earlier. Be prepared for a life that was the opposite of your earlier years. For me it was the truth that I could be safe and good all by myself and there was no need for a relationship to fulfill that need.
  4. Do not feel the need to know the answers. Be ready for the uncertain story that lays ahead of you. Trust the wisdom of life in laying down the answer for you when you are ready for it.

What JOY does is heal the wounds in your heart and makes the pain more bearable. I noticed that when I went to the meditation retreat at the end of 2011. I was no longer as emotionally distraught as I had been in earlier retreats (fresh out of a divorce). There was no need to fantasize an ending to my story that was in conflict with what I was. In fact, as I left the retreat I felt a bit disappointed that I was not feeling the wave of exhilaration I felt in earlier retreats. But now I am wiser to realize that, all this time, the retreat was pointing me towards the healing that was already occurring.

Today as I write this, I am (happily!) married with kids and (unfortunately) chasing the worldly goalposts that 2011 had thought me not to chase! Is this the ending that I was aiming for when I stepped out of 2011? Honestly, as I stepped out of 2011, I did not know the answers to my life and the JOY experienced in that year made it bearable for me to live with that uncertainty. When life knew I was ready, it unfurled relationships that were right for me.

Time has passed between then and now, and human nature being, some lessons are being forgotten. But any time, I tend to forget them, I dig deep into those memories. And the lessons learned in 2011 orient me back promptly to the truth that you don’t need to accomplish anything to discover JOY in your heart – it is already there!

So what was your year of JOY!

From the Pure arises the Pure

The Opening invocation to the Isa Upanishad says it all.

om purnam adah purnam idam, purnat purnam udachyate
purnasya purnam adaya, purnam evavashishyate.

Translated literally it means:

That is Pure (Whole), This is Pure, From the Pure arises the Pure
From the Pure, when the Pure is removed, All that is left is Pure.

This blog is an expression of a journey as I uncover the reality of accepting things as they are. The best explanation of the word Pure, I have come across is that “seeing things as they are, and not for what we want them to be”. Accepting oneself, people, situations and life as it is and not wanting anything to be different is what Pure is all about.

Like many (or most) of us, I am susceptible to visions of how things could/should be different and why it is not. However over the past many years, life has thrown many events in my path that is making me realize that just wishing things were different could be the root cause of whatever we suffer today.

This blog is not an attempt to advocate or preach any wisdom, but rather share my experiences as I uncover it. What I am sharing is what I would call as ‘Intuitive Experiences” – that have made Wisdom accessible to me. Nor is this any fixed wisdom, what may be correct for me today may not be so in a different state of life and time. What may sound right to me, may not be right for you – but hopefully it will inspire you to uncover your own path. The truth is only one (don’t ask me what it is – I still haven’t experienced it!) but we all have to get to it through our own route.

So feel free to read on, and also share any similar journeys that you are on!