Thursday, September 24, 2015

Choose your own mindfulness adventure: Day 21: Mindfulness Challenge

All it takes to convert an activity into an unbreakable habit is the willingness to do that activity steadily for 21 consecutive days. 

21 days.
One day at a time.

So they say.

And here we are, having followed these tips so kindly shared with us by the team at Kindspring. Some of the tips have been easy to follow. Others, not so much.

But they have all egged us along, on the mindfulness journey. Showing us one scenic milestone after another, and telling us that this journey is one of those where the joy lies as much on the road as it does in the destination.

Now it is up to us.

Do we remain faithful to the challenge?

In the absence of an external party driving us on, motivating us, it might get a tad difficult.

Nothing like a community to make us feel motivated.

Left to oneself, the journey can be a little harder, but it still has its rewards.

I have discovered that paying attention to the task at hand helps me to give that task my all.

Also, contrary to the experts, I have discovered that while multitasking may have its devotees, it just isn't the right thing for me.

One thing at a time is the way to go.

My daily "to-do" lists have helped too. It is a great comfort to be able to strike off each item off the list as I complete it.

For those of you, who haven't been with me through the journey, here's a short recap:
Day 1:  Have a mindful meal
Day 2: Practice being here now
Day 3: Tune into transitions
Day 4: Change your routine
Day 5: Spend time with a child or an elder
Day 6: Pay attention to Passive Moments
Day 7: Find magic in the mundane
Day 8: Engage in Mindful Conversation
Day 9: Practice Mindful Emailing
Day 10: Do something kind for someone
Day 11: Make Time to Practice Silence
Day 12: Reflect on your intentions
Day 13: Take a Mindful Walk
Day 14: Practice Forgiveness
Day 15: Practice Digital Mindfulness
Day 16: Tune Into Nature
Day 17: Make a mindful phone call
Day 18: Practice Empathy with all Beings
Day 19: Pay Attention to Your "Off" Moments
Day 20: Practice Mindful Decision-Making

I just noticed, in saving the links for the recap above, that the key word here is practice.

That says it all for mindfulness.

You can only achieve mindfulness if you keep practising it.

One day at a time. For ever.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Practice Mindful Decision-Making: Day 20: Mindfulness Challenge


Every decision we make, no matter how big or small, tells the world what kind of people we are.

Our decision to throw trash into a bin instead of littering the street shows that we are people who care about our city, and value cleanliness.

Our decision to not pick up something that does not belong to us shows that we are people who listen to the voice of their conscience.

We may never have the opportunity to be powerful people, people whose decisions impact the world and seal the fate of nations.

And yet, each of our decisions is doing exactly that. 

It is making and remaking the world for us.

Which brand of toothpaste to buy? Which college to go to? Which subjects to study? Where to work? Who to marry? 

You know that poem by Robert Frost? Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference.

That is what our decisions represent. Each choice we make, whether in a store or all through life, represents a road we are taking. And a new journey we will undertake.
A new path we will walk on.

Let's choose mindfully.

Let's bring the weight of all our awareness to bear on every decision we make.

Let's decide in such a way as to ensure that we are always in control of our decisions.

For in the end, they will affect our whole life.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Pay Attention to Your "Off" Moments: Day 19: Mindfulness Challenge


There is nothing about life that should lead us to expect to always have our way. Certainly, life makes no such promises to us.

And yet we wallow in such terrible disappointment when things don't turn out as we'd like them to.

Why do we hold such expectations anyway?

One of life's unsolved mysteries it is. I don't know.

Life is peppered with so many disappointments, and we take each of them personally as if Fate or Karma had a score to settle with us.

Mindfulness reminds us to look at each disappointment, each "Off" moment, as if it were part of the script.

One that will lead to a stunning climax.

Just another bend in the road.

One that will bring in a change of scenery.

Our attitude has the power to do that.

We need to accept each moment, for what it contains. For the lessons we need to learn from it. 

Boredom, frustration, misery, indifference, these are all a part of life. 

We need to take it in our stride when things don't go our way.

As some wise alec once said, "If everything is going your way, you're in the wrong lane."

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Practice Empathy with all Beings: Day 18: Mindfulness Challenge


It is strange how things work out as they do but the fact remains that the deeper we peer into ourselves, the more we are able to see outside. 

The more we become aware, and accepting, of our own faults and limitations, and needs and desires, the more willing we become to admit that others might have their own faults and limitations, and needs and desires too.

This acknowledgement is the first step on the road to empathy. 

Being able to accept others for what they are, to be able to walk in their shoes, even if for a while, to be able to give them the benefit of the doubt because of what their life may have been like -- this is what mindfulness calls us to do.

No matter how badly some people may behave with us, empathy saves us from stooping to their level by forcing us to acknowledge that their actions may be driven by their circumstances and past experiences.

For an instant at least, a connection is forged between them and us.

A connection that helps us see them as human beings.
Flawed human beings.
No better than us.
No worse either.

And then we can begin to forgive them.

Or even put the hateful experience behind us, and move on.

With less baggage.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Make a mindful phone call: Day 17: Mindfulness Challenge


Always smile before you answer the phone; the caller will hear it in your voice.

I read this somewhere and have been unconsciously practising it ever since. I do believe that the smiling makes a difference. Try it next time, if you don't believe me.

Of course, smiling came more easily when I didn't know who was at the other end of the line.

In these days of caller id, I must admit that I find it difficult to smile, particularly when I see the number of someone I don't want to speak to. Or someone trying to sell me something.

Or worse, someone who always manages to leave me a little more annoyed than I was before.

Having a mindful conversation becomes a particularly challenging exercise on the telephone. Not being able to see the person we are speaking to, not being able to take cues from their facial expressions and non-verbal gestures hampers us from participating fully in the conversation.

And so this is an activity that we particularly need to bring mindfulness into.

Whether it is an official call, whether we are talking to a friend, or having a necessary call with a stranger or maybe the doctor, we need to stay mindful. 

We need to attempt to be pleasant, and not take their time for granted.

We need to respond with kindness and empathy, as we expect to be treated.

And we need to listen. It's one of the hardest things to do well.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Tune Into Nature: Day 16: Mindfulness Challenge


Back in the days when reading and writing was the preserve of the elite, people still managed to read happy lives by reading the world around them. 

For those who know how to read her, nature offers valuable lessons, all hidden.
In the stars.
In flower and foliage.
In the majesty of the trees.
In the fearsome beauty of the sea.

Spending time alone in nature's company can be a greatly restorative experience. 

Tired and jaded nerves can be rejuvenated. 
Minds stunted into believing that the world can be contained amid four walls can begin to expand. 
Shoulders hunched over, toiling in misery, can feel energised. 

For best results, walk barefoot on the grass.

Or sit on the shore, and watch the waves come rushing towards you, then retreat.

Look at the patterns of clouds in the sky, and try to imagine what those shapes might resemble.

You could even sit in the shade of a tree and let the breeze lull you to sleep, while the birds chirp a sweet lullaby.

Nature is a thing of beauty that can soothe and amaze. And heal.

Listen to its sounds and its silence. And be prepared to be amazed.

All we need to do is to show up for the spectacle that Mother Nature puts up for our sake, with all our senses intact, ready to drink in the magnificence and beauty on display.

The ancients knew that behind the beauty of nature there was an order that broke through the seeming chaos, an order that had set the world going for aeons.

Until we showed up and decided we were smarter and nature was our tool.

Mindfulness demands that for once, we put away the mundane sameness of our lives and look for the poetry in nature. 

Naturally, the rewards are out of this world.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Practice Digital Mindfulness: Day 15: Mindfulness Challenge


Of all the mindfulness practices I’ve observed so far, this one is the hardest and poses the greatest temptation.

Not completely, of course.

I am well aware of the dangers posed by the big Web and have never uploaded my family’s pictures on any social media site.

In the early days, I used to blog about my children’s antics but now I do so only if it is absolutely necessary. They are older now and I respect their right to not have their personal life thrown open to the entire world.

I myself have always had a phobia of having my picture taken so there are very few photographs of mine, and no selfies at all, littering the Internet.

Footsteps on the sand get blown away by the next gust of wind. The tracks may be completely obliterated by the next wave that rushes over to lap at the shore.

But digital footsteps are forever. Long years later, they can return to haunt us.

An expert hacker could re-create our entire life online, putting together the digital crumbs of your past in a way that can bite you, causing serious embarrassment and distress.

While I am wary of posting anything online, other than sharing my blog post links, stray thoughts of my own or something particularly inspiring written by others that I feel compelled to share, I have no objection to checking out what others have shared on their walls.

And that is a problem.

A Like here, a complimentary or sympathetic comment there and before I know it, a half hour and more has completely eluded my grasp.

Gone forever. With nothing to show for it.

Like Alice we are sucked into another world, but unlike Alice, it isn't always a Wonderland.

Each time I try to abstain from Facebook, I rush back, as though pulled by a powerful force.

My reasoning: What if I miss something earth shattering that someone has posted?

And it is not as if the pull comes only from a computer. Between the PC and the smartphone and other devices, we find ourselves drawn to the online world several times a day.

Besides checking into social media sites, and the web sites they lead us on to, where we get lost reading about all kinds of things ranging from life in the universe to the gossip in the lives of the rich and famous, not to mention apps that promise to keep us well connected, we have to contend with our inboxes. Most of us have more than one email id. And if you are anything like me, you've subscribed to a hundred newsletters and bulletins, and you must remain in control of all of them.

Mindfulness urges me to recall how much of what I read on social media this past week, month or year has had that kind of cataclysmic impact of my life, and I can’t think of any.

It drives the point further home by asking how my own life and those of million others managed in the years before Facebook forced us to become gawkers at one another’s peepholes.

It asks us to pause before each new tab or window we open. Do we really want to go there? Down that labyrinth, into wherever it leads us? Knowing that when we return, this moment will have been long gone?

Knowing that the distraction, and the vast amounts of information, will do nothing to create a sense of wisdom for us.

Knowing that it will create a strange sense of disquiet about us.

For my part, I am going to set some time limits for the time I spend online. When the alarm tells me my time is up, I will dutifully shut those windows and return to the real world, because there is much to see here and much to do too.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Practice Forgiveness: Day 14: Mindfulness Challenge

Day 14: Practice Forgiveness

La Niña has a little cache, a little drawer where she stores everything that is of importance to her. These items include broken beads, trinkets, little pictures, loose sheets of paper on which her teacher has commended her school work by awarding her a star or by writing GOOD in big, bold letters. There's lots of treasure there, all pleasing in her eyes.

The Husband and I rib her gently about all the items she collects, and she retorts, in defence of her trove, "Don't you collect things you shouldn't?" And it is with a start that I begin to admit that there is some truth to what she says.

For a long time, I nursed hurts and rejection that had been dished out to me back when I was a little schoolgirl. A teacher who said something that dented my self-esteem, a classmate that poked fun at me because of something I didn't have.

Later there were other people who added themselves to the list (or did I add them?). Family members, friends, acquaintances. There was a brief phase when it seems anyone could annoy me. I had turned into an Angry Young Woman, storing up hurts, and getting a certain, strange keen pleasure out of thinking of the number of times I had been hurt or rejected, insulted or humiliated. 

There came a time when it became difficult to lug around all that resentment, and I realised that holding grudges wasn't hurting anyone else but me. 

It wasn't a short road from that realisation to forgiving all those people.
With each act of praying for the other person, I found it easier to let go. 
With each act of letting go, I was reminded of the times when I would have needed forgiveness too.

I realised that the act of forgiving someone requires courage and strength. To allow a hurt to no longer control our lives. To see beyond it to the goodness of the person. To give the person another chance.

I realise that forgiveness is not a one-time thing. To be truly meaningful, it has to become an attitude. 

Only then will it bring us healing from the pain.

Otherwise it is like carrying an unnecessary burden all through our lives, even as our backs bend with the pain, and the worry lines etch deeper into our faces and our hearts.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Take a Mindful Walk: Day 13: Mindfulness Challenge


Of all the mindful practices, Kindspring has taught me so far, this one is my favourite. And not just because it allows me to lose weight without ever seeing the inside of a gym. 

I've always enjoyed walking. I learned it from my Dad. Not the walking, but the act of deriving joy from it. From putting one foot before another and the other before the previous one, until you look back and find yourself further away from when you started. 

I am grateful to live in a country where there are thousands of people out on the streets walking at any given point in time. Partly because not everyone owns a car, partly because local transportation can be expensive for some people, but mostly because walking is a thing we've always done.

Deals on wheels and offers of free home delivery have spoiled some of us in the cities, but the vast majority of us still walk.

I like that.
I believe that there is something primeval about walking.
It is just you and the earth. The pace slows down, allowing you to drink in your surroundings, to watch other people, and get a glimpse into life all around you.

There is so much you miss when you whiz by in a vehicle. 

The way to walk mindfully is to put our phones into our pockets and keep our eyes on the road, and the world around, Let that world settle playfully at the edges of our minds.

Let us negotiate the world on foot. See how far our legs can carry us. 

Let us look around us, and pay attention.
To our feet and how our bodies are reacting to the sensation of walking.
How our muscles feel after a long walk.
The beating of our hearts.
Our breathing.

Put away all thoughts of speed, and how a car would have been so much faster and more convenient.

Walking helps us realise how vast the world is and how small we are. 

It helps us realise a truth that the ancients have long known:

That paths are made when we walk.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Reflect on your intentions: Day 12: Mindfulness Challenge


On Day 12, the kind folks at Kindspring who give us the seeds that set us thinking, as part of the 21-day Mindfulness Challenge, tell us to reflect us on our intentions.

Intentions are our motivators. They are what get us to behave the way we do, speak the way we do.
And so they are important.

But beyond that is the larger landscape of our actions. Whether our intentions get translated into reality or whether they remain as they are, too overwhelmed by their greatness to take a step further.

As the old proverb goes: The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

The "would-have-liked-tos," the "never-meant-tos," the "tried-tos," and so many others that we recognise for the glibness with which they flow off our tongues.

This day let us reflect upon our intentions every morning, and see how closer they are to completion by the close of our day.

A certain degree of frustration in the achievement of these goals is inevitable, but if the close of each day sees us trying hard to match the intention with the desired action, then it means we are not trying hard enough.

For intention, despite its seeming gravitas, receives strength from action.
Without action, intention is but a shadow.

Mindfulness demands that we pay attention to our intentions. 

Each intention is a choice.

Whether we choose this or that, or not at all, will influence the course of our lives.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Make Time to Practice Silence: Day 11: Mindfulness Challenge


Sooner or later, the noise of the world seeps into our being.
The clutter, the clamour and the commotion take root in our hearts, evicting the peace that should have reigned within. 

We do a gross disservice to ourselves when we insist on being part of the world.

We feel shortchanged at the thought of being left behind.

And so we spread our presence across the online world, downloading every app there is, in the hopes of keeping abreast with all the knowledge and information there is.

In a world in which knowledge is currency, it seems to be dreadfully important to know everything about everything.

But the trade exacts a heavy price.

In time, the knowing of everything about everything degenerates into knowing nothing about anything.

Certainly, nothing worth knowing.

What's worse, it takes away our peace of mind.

The need to know more about often trivial things denudes our soul of what it really needs. 

To just BE STILL.

To just BE.

Today we need to practice mindfulness in receptive silence.

We need the silence to ensure that our spirit can thrive.

Ten minutes is enough. 

Whenever we can, wherever we can.

All we need to do is to shut our eyes, and turn a deaf ear to the noise around us. 

And listen to the sound of ourselves breathing. 

And the sound of the world around receding into relative unimportance.

Should any thoughts arise, they must be treated with gentleness, and let loose into the great beyond.

Lightness is liberating.

Silence is sustaining.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Do something kind for someone: Day 10: Mindfulness Challenge


There are 3 types of kindness.
Kindness of thought, word and deed.

Do charitable deeds, think charitable thoughts and speak charitably of someone.

Most of us believe that we are kind folk at heart. At least we don't go around actively doing evil. That ought to be good enough.

Mindfulness asks us to go a step further. To refrain from speaking harshly of others. To avoid judging another. To think well of others. To find something nice to say even about someone we don't like.

Those are not things that come easily but with practice, mindful kindness is an attitude that can be nurtured,

If only I am willing.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Practice Mindful Emailing: Day 9: Mindfulness Challenge

Day 9: Practice Mindful Emailing

The glory days of letter writing were in the pre-Internet era. 

Few people write letters any more, at least in urban areas.

Few people write in longhand anymore.

I know many that use their pens mostly for signing their names on official documents.

Email is an undeniable convenience. It helps us communicate quickly and efficiently. 

Most of us, at least those who are online, have more than one email id to their name.

We send and receive multiple emails through the day. 

But rarely does the receipt of an email evoke the kind of intense feelings that written letters routinely evoked a few decades ago.

Why don't emails hold the kind of magic that letters held within them?

A magic that made the recipient read it again and again, until the very paper was torn along the folds, and the message within was committed to memory.

Perhaps it is time to bring mindfulness to bear upon our emails too.

To strip emails of the air of casualness that they carry, and imbue them with understanding and true communication.

Do we pay attention to the content of the  mail?

Do we ensure that what we are writing is necessary, true and kind, the three pillars of good communication?

Do we care about the kind of impact it may have on the recipient?

Do we imagine them reading it, and does that influence the tone and tenor of the mail?

Do we even read the email once before hitting SEND?

Let's make a beginning. Let's ensure that our emails are written with sincerity and purpose.

Let's pay attention to our state of mind when we are writing an email.

Let's give the words we write our full attention.

And let's ensure that our anger never seeps into our emails. 

Because Send takes an instant but regret can last forever. A thing to remember even if your email provider lets you recall mails.
The medium has changed. The message should not.

The message should continue to reinforce feelings of value and worth.

The ancients who communicated via smoke signals would consider it an honour and a privilege to be able to send a message directly into someone's backyard. Which is what our inboxes are.

Let's not abuse that privilege.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Engage in Mindful Conversation: Day 8: Mindfulness Challenge


Having a mindful conversation is probably the hardest thing to do. 

Which of us can honestly say we've not been selfish in our conversations?

When we listen to someone, are we listening with all our attention? Or are we only partially paying heed, while the greater part of our mind is drafting our own response to what the person is saying?

Or maybe when someone is telling us about how their day/week/year/life has gone wrong, we can't wait to tell them about the bad stuff that has been happening to us. Just as bad as what's happened to them, or maybe worse.

Are we always trying to steal other people's thunder? 

Whether positive or negative, are we always ready with a story of our own?

I must plead guilty, because try as I might, I can't get myself to stop. I've always got an interesting story to recount, in response to someone else, and before I know it, I may have ended up sabotaging the conversation.

Next time, I listen, I shall seek to do just that.
It is so much more important to listen than to merely hear, which is what we, and I, do.

The reason why we can't have a mindful conversation is because our minds are too full.
Of unnecessary things.
Of deadwood.
Of clutter.
Of trash.

The situation is no better when we are talking to ourselves. We'd never speak with a loved one that way.

Which is why I have simultaneously signed up for the 21-day Amygdala Whispering Challenge, also on Kindspring, like this one. Why I encourage all that negative self-talk with myself, I do not know.

I talk badly to myself, and then I absorb that badness and make it my own. 

Being mindful in conversation means listening, without judging, or jumping to conclusions or making assumptions of any kind. Or criticising. 

It means listening, without feeling the crazy urge to see, just for a teensy-weensy second, who else is online at the moment and to see if they've pinged you.

It means looking at the person as they speak. Maintaining eye contact, without fidgeting or squirming. 

Interruptions are a strict no-no. Not for the sake of offering advice, not for the sake of pointing out wrong behaviour. Not even for the sake of asking questions.

When it is our turn to speak, we must speak slowly and kindly, and pause, giving others time to collect their thoughts. Not rush to speak as soon as someone has finished.

Being mindful in conversation is about making the other person feel as if his/her words and thoughts matter to you. That they are significant in your life.

Whether it is a family member, a friend, a colleague, or even a stranger on the daily commute who wants to vent.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Find magic in the mundane: Day 7: Mindfulness Challenge


Roald Dahl, one of my favourite authors said it best: 

Those who don't believe in magic will never find it.

He ought to know what he was talking about. He had a lot of magic in his books. 

Not the kind that you might find at Hogwarts, no way.

Dahl had the unique ability to make the most mundane incident appear magical, as if you were reading it for the first time. 
It had never happened before. 
Not to anyone.
Not before. 
Not since.

Magic like that you can always find in books.
And in the movies.

But magic, of a different kind, is also to be found in the mundane, if you only look for it.

Or create it, if it isn't there.

The ordinary can be home to magic.

We are all carriers of magic, and wonder.

If we only choose to see it.

Poet WB Yeats once said: 

The world is full of magical things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.

The ordinary, monotonous tasks we do.
Through the days

The laundry, the cooking, the dish washing, the sweeping, the dusting, the floor mopping, the lawn mowing, the driving.

They can all be imbued with magic.

If you remind yourself of the loved ones you are doing them for.

Our forefathers would see magic in the appliances that we see as necessities.

Their lives were filled with drudgery and monotony, consumed by backbreaking physical labour.

The tedium of walking long distances to fetch water. 

With no warm water in the winter, no cool water in the summer, no refrigerators, no ACs, no cars, no televisions, no computers, no smartphones, no Internet.

They'd laugh and phooey in our faces if we tried to mope about the commonplaceness and the banality of our lives.

For once, let's look at ourselves through the eyes of someone who has less than we do.

Gratitude is a magical experience.

In case you want to know, Kindspring helps me find magic in the mundane.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Pay attention to Passive Moments: Day 6: Mindfulness Challenge


Boredom is a universal disease. One that eats away at our joy and peace of mind.

Curiously, the more options we have for entertaining themselves the more likely we are to feel bored. On TV, we've all experienced the 100s-of-channels-and-nothing-worth-watching phenomenon.

Who can keep tabs on how many glorious hours we fritter away, second by second, minute by minute, too lethargic to save them?

To counter the boredom or the frustration that we sometimes face, we turn to the TV, or to our smartphones. But after an hour of crushing candy, would you say the saga of your life is any better than it was?

At the traffic signal, waiting for the light to turn green; at the grocery store, waiting for our turn at the payment counter; waiting in the doctor's room for our turn, waiting for the bus or the train or our flight. Bored out of our wits at a dull presentation.

We all face these moments.

Now picture this: What if you made a conscious effort to reclaim those boring moments?

What if you sought to rescue them from themselves? 

It's easy.

There's no dearth of what you can do to save these passive moments from just passing by. 

I always read, whenever I find myself alone with time on hand.

I also pray for people I see on the road. You never know the tough burdens some of our fellow beings must be carrying. Our prayers could lift them up, and work wonders for ourselves too.

I know someone who would keenly observe other people when she was bored, imagining that if those people were ever suspects in a murder trial, then she would be able to provide crucial details to the police, and come up with impressive deductions, that would enable the police to solve the case and win her a Teen Sensation award.

(Okay, that was me after reading Sherlock Holmes).

Another friend of mine used to imagine that beneath their ordinary faces and bodies, most people we saw on the street were actually aliens, and would soon start sprouting tentacles or spew out gooey fluids, or do one of the many distasteful things that are so popular with extra-terrestrials. 

(Okay, that too was me after watching the Men in Black series of films).

You see how easy it is?

Scott Adams started doodling during presentations, and that is how we have Dilbert to entertain and lift us out of the morass of corporate life today. What if instead of doodling to pass the time, he'd chosen to doze instead?

Living mindfully demands that we save these passive moments from extinction. That's how we can live life to the fullest.

For those who came in late, I'm still taking the 21-day Mindfulness Challenge, organised by Kindspring and having a grand time too.


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