Unlearning The Ways Of Our Mind

Recently I had the privilege of attending a professional education program at Harvard. I was there to engage in discussions about ‘Mindfulness For Educators’ but somewhere through the many conversations it transformed into ‘Mindfulness for myself’.  It is a stressful world out there and we tend to get lost in the blitz. Moments turn to days, then weeks, months and so on, and one fine day you catch yourself saying, ‘Life is going by too fast’.  Being mindful and bringing in a few variances to our art of living will go a long way in slowing down to relish life. The biggest weapon we can fight stress with is our own ability to choose one thought over the other. How we choose, dictates the next moment of our life. Always think before you speak, stop talking about problems and instead talk about the joys. Make that a habit you keep. So how do we unlearn the habits of the mind that we have been living with for so long? Here are the five habits of the mind we can doctor to start living a much fuller life.

How we allow the world to impact us: Many of us are very tough on ourselves. We don’t need anyone else to bring us down. We can successfully do that to ourselves very well! We allow negative experiences to have exponential impact on us, whereas we brush away any positive impact and deem it as ‘no big deal’.  We can be very unforgiving and hold ourselves to high expectations. What we need to unlearn is how to stop being so unforgiving and relish the good things that come our way. Let the negativity fall off like water off a duck and absorb the positivity like a sponge.

How we react to the stimuli around us: We live our lives mostly reacting to everything and everyone around us. These reactions, mostly knee-jerk, or emotional,  are not well thought out, educated decisions. They may not be the best course of action and we often end up regretting them. We need to unlearn reacting to situations and instead learn to respond. Pay attention to the stimuli which is forcing us to react. Take a moment to listen, be receptive and think about what your internal reactions are telling you to do. Know that we don’t have to act on every internal reaction we have. Instead, think about how you address the situation calmly. Now respond. Depending on the situation and how often you are mindful of your internal reactions, you can train yourself to respond quickly but thoughtfully.

How we interpret life: Everyone interprets life in the way that is most suitable to them. One might think honesty is the best policy and another might think it is okay to lie sometimes if it is to help someone. We become very defensive and attached to our interpretations of life. We can’t let go and we try very hard to convince everyone around, including ourself, how we are on the right path of life. We need to unlearn making our perfectly formed opinions, our facts of life. We need to be open to seeing life through different lenses to get a clearer, wholesome view of the world around us.

How we poison ourselves:  All the negativity that we hold on to is nothing but poison. Resentment towards others is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies. The only person suffering here is you. Anger, jealousy, fear, anxiety, frustration, disappointment are all poisons that destroy us. Let’s be realistic here. We cannot have a life devoid of negative emotions but we can train ourselves to not allow it to linger for more than a few minutes. We should be able to reason with our mind and replace the negative emotions with something positive like hope, excitement, gratitude, joy and so on.

How we breathe: Yes! Many of us have been breathing wrong all through our life. Me included! I always thought we inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth. But the nose is for breathing and mouth is for talking. Here are the top three reasons why nose breathing is good for you: 1) The nose hair acts as a natural air filter, keeping the pollutants and chemicals out. 2) The mucous lining your nose warms or cools the air to the right temperature so you don’t get sick. 3) The nostrils are designed to inhale and exhale the right amount of oxygen needed by your body.

A simple act of fixing how we breathe ensures the air contacts the olfactory nerves to stimulate your brain and put it into its natural rhythm. If you don’t breathe through your nose, in a sense you’re only half alive.

Allow yourself to live in the moment. Even if you are surrounded by problems, just lean in… and relax. Sometimes you just have to ‘let it be’; it’s not always the best choice to ‘let it go’. Focus on the moment you are in and savor it. Once you are in the moment, hold on to it. Make a connection with your spiritual side and commit to the values that you deem important. 

Credits & Thank you:
Metta McGarvey – Educational Co-Chair, Harvard
Joseph Zolner – Senior Director of Programs – Harvard                                                     Andres, Ali & Atman – Holistic Life Foundation                                                                       Lama Rod Owens  – IBme

 

 

 

 

 

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Learning To Say NO!

Growing up there was a story that was read to me in school called; ‘The giving tree’. The book follows the lives of a female apple tree and a boy, who develop a relationship with one another. The tree is very “giving” and the boy evolves into a “taking” teenager, man, then elderly man. In the final pages, both the tree and the boy feel the sting of their respective “giving” and “taking” nature. When only a stump remains for the tree, she is not happy, at least at that moment. The boy does return as a tired elderly man to meet the tree once more and states that all he wants is “a quiet place to sit and rest,” which the tree could provide. With this final stage of giving, “the Tree was happy”. It was shared in various other Indian folklore forms, even by my grandmother and the moral was the same. The moral of the story glorified helping someone in need. It perpetuates the myth of sacrificing, selfless life as the only way to true happiness. The values were instilled in every listener that being selfless and to always ‘give’ is a good character trait to inculcate and we should all strive to be like that.

Well, THAT was the most insane advice I have ever received and unfortunate that I believed it and followed it for a long time.

Today, I sit back and think about the big question, “How much help is too much help?” and “Is it ok to say no?”. I struggled with both for a long time because I had a problem with saying ‘NO’ to people. On the rare circumstances that I did manage to say no, I would be ridden with guilt. I would think, rethink and work myself into a frenzy that I was this selfish person, who didn’t help a friend in need.

With time came self-awareness and with it came self-realization. Yes, giving is good but one should only give without hurting their own self. If you end up hurting yourself in the process, then you are not doing any good to either yourself or the other. You end up disrespecting your own individuality by saying no to your body, mind and soul, by saying yes consistently. Sometimes helping others is more of your own need than the need of others. People feel a sense of purpose, a sense of achievement by helping others. They feel valued.

Analyze the guilt that comes with saying ‘NO’. If you have done enough, or you are tired, or incapable of doing more, then there is nothing wrong in saying NO. There is no point in exhausting your body, mind or finances by going beyond your capacity to help. If your conscience is clear, you should not feel guilty. You are just taking care of yourself before you take care of another. Understanding one’s own capacity and limitations is very important. Let your conscience be your guide. This is not easy because sometimes, it’s hard to distinguish between ego and conscience. It takes time to differentiate between the two and if you are unable to do it, there is nothing wrong in seeking help from someone who can guide you well. Raise your self-awareness so you can discriminate between the two. This is the most valuable skill you can learn.

Today, I still find myself helping anyone in need but when I do say no, I don’t feel guilty. My conscience is clear and I have no reason to believe that I have somehow failed or abandoned the person in need. There are a million other people in the world that could help them and someone who is more capable than me will step up and take my place.

Life will go on for all even after I say NO.

Epilogue: I was googling a picture about ‘The giving tree’ to add to my blog and I came upon an article about the actual book. It went on to say that it is a very divisive book. TheScreen Shot 2017-11-07 at 9.51.22 AM controversy concerns whether the relationship between the ‘giver’ and the ‘taker’ is positive or not. It goes on to argue that the ‘giving tree’ is not really selfless and that the boy is actually ‘abusing’ the good nature of the tree.  Now they tell me!

 

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