Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Does "Net Worth" Stack Up Against "Sense of Worth?"

Who doesn’t want to reside in their dream house in a sought-after neighborhood? Or drive their dream car(s) or have the kids attend private schools? How about taking extravagant vacations or splurging on furnishings, jewelry, art, gourmet delights, designer accessories, and hobby equipment? We want for ourselves what our neighbor has, or a friend or colleague has.

The Upside?

“I want to live the life of my dreams” is how we justify it. And why not? Every generation aspires for the upcoming generation(s) to live a better, more rewarding life. To get where they are, some individuals have overcome physical adversity such as a disability; others have struggled with emotional misfortunes such as abuse or the loss of a loved one; yet others are victims of circumstantial hardship such as poverty and crime. But nearly everyone has dreamed of a good life for themselves and striven to align their priorities toward achieving those goals.

Wealth, popularity, and power are primeval attractions. Earnings and job prestige make life convenient and comfortable; they also promote professional and social visibility. Professional success directly correlates (and vice versa) to an individual’s sense of purpose, belonging, job satisfaction, and financial security. Marking notches on the social fabric has the power to enhance an individual’s sense of social acceptance and emotional safety.

The Downside?

Often, in the rush of life, individuals lose sight of their purpose and start moving—reflexively or, at times, by choice—in an orbit different from the one in which they started. Why? Unconscious living encourages individuals to disregard risk, make troublesome choices, and engage in impulsive actions and behaviors.

Consider this: from holy men to the common man, the populace is fast becoming a generation of hoarders. Soap, shampoo, clothes, shoes, electronics, cars, real estate, gold, international currency—the human thirst for “stuff” and money is insatiable. People own multiples of everything and, yet, want more. Most people don’t realize the extent of their hoarding until they stumble over the wall of cereal boxes behind their pantry door or get caught in the clothes traffic jam in their closet, for example. Consumerism (or should I say over-consumerism?) has most definitely resulted in clutter—both physical and mental. How many times have we bought something, only to realize that we already had it? How many times have we made promises, but neglected to keep them? Confusion has some people clamoring to get things done at the nth hour.

More significantly, consumerism has increased debt and disease. The present-day US debt is in the ballpark of $15 trillion. Ouch! Our hearts and waists are waiting to explode from all of the gastronomical delights in which we have unconsciously indulged. When used irresponsibly, the path of upward mobility has the power to entomb people in unconscious living, depressing their sense of purpose and eroding their sense of self, thus feeding into the collective emotional bankruptcy.

Need I mention the environmental degradation factor?

Second, sense gratification, by nature, is addictive and can ensnare individuals in a perpetual trap of “want-and-seek.” Addiction spans the gamut from trivial to overwhelming. It used to be that we’d arise in the morning and reach out to the greater powers with a prayer of gratitude. Today, we simply reach out to our BlackBerry or iPhone. Know anyone addicted to the internet, alcohol, sex, drugs, medication, gambling, cigarettes, or plastic surgery? Those are the obvious ones, some of which serve as sensational fodder for the media. One glance at the evening news on television or the front page of a daily newspaper will reveal the pervasiveness of these afflictions.

How about the obsession with video games and texting? Kids as young as ten have become adroit texters. Many adults text and drive, or drink and drive, despite understanding the repercussions. Exercise has become a form of addiction for some. Celebrity glitz, glamour, and gossip have firmly emblazoned people’s minds. The flames of bitterness, anger, guilt, and depression have consumed many a people. Granted, certain mental conditions have a genetic component, but modern-day addiction is more of an acquired condition that has become deeply ingrained over time. Addiction has elevated greed and anxiety to an all-time high and plunged apathy to new lows, making gratitude and contentment a thing of the past.

The human pursuit of pretense, fraud, glamour, sensationalism, and other stodgy holdups has resulted in the loss of moral bearings, dysfunctional behaviors, the collapse of family life, disease, mental and emotional stress, restlessness, frustration, incoherence, anguish, and dissatisfaction.


Your life is filled with work, possessions, and diversions, but is it also filled with balance and contentment? Your social image is as well-manicured as your front lawn, but does your inner image resemble scenes from a Hollywood disaster movie? You delight in gastronomical indulgences, but do you still feel empty inside? You hold the power to change the world, but do you crumble in the face of emotional hardships and challenges? Does your “net worth” stack up against your “sense of worth?”

Questions are for you to ask; the answers will come find you. Freedom from the trappings of the external world can lead to freedom from mental anguish. Vipassana meditation, the passport to freedom, teaches the individual to become aware of the mind, body, and emotions—a conscious engagement that awakens the conscious mind; arrests compulsive thoughts when they arise; thoroughly cleanses the mind of old beliefs, habits, and programming; helps to release feelings of perfectionism, unworthiness, and inadequacy; helps to make decisions based on fact rather than on fantasy; and overall helps to consciously create the life that we were meant to live.

May the force of silence be with you.

Until we meet again….

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Power of Persistence

Meditation doesn’t just happen; it requires intention, effort, and skill to succeed. I signed up for this course knowing what to expect in terms of commitment and perseverance. I knew it would test the breadth of my boundaries—physical, emotional, psychological, educational, religious, and spiritual. I expected it to challenge my determination and firmness of purpose. I anticipated that it would check my optimism, shake my self-confidence, and rattle my convictions.
Reality washes through me as I step out of my car. “Do I really have what it takes to live like a monk for ten days?” I wonder. Although in the midst of other retreatants, we cannot make eye contact, much less communicate with each other. The day begins promptly at 4:00 A.M. and ends at 9:00 P.M. Breakfast, lunch, and tea is provided every day. All food is organic and vegetarian. No dinner. No access to the outside world. No cell phones, no computers, no TV, no reading material, and no journal writing. Gender-segregated accommodations are pretty basic—group cottages that are lighted and heated, have beds and bedding, and bathrooms and showers.  Retreatants meditate for ten hours every day for ten consecutive days. “Will I make it through this?” I question. Out pops an inner voice of assurance. “Of course! You’re here to change old habits. Habits that cause you pain and grief. Set aside all doubts and fear. And give it your one hundred percent.” “Okay. Okay,” I promise.

Read comments on the book and post yours below.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Happy Republic Day, India!

Did you know that the Constitution of India is the longest written constitution of any sovereign country in the world, containing 444 articles, 12 schedules and 94 amendments, with 117,369 words in its English version? Compare that to the United States Constitution, which comprises 7 articles and 27 amendments. 

India became a republic on January 26, 1950. What that means is it is the birth date of the "Constitution of India," the governing document that defines the principles upon which the nation is based. January 26 is a national holiday in India. 

I remember as a child growing up in India, I attended my school's Republic Day celebration, which typically began with students and teachers gathering in the grounds, and in no particular order, the unfurling of India's tri-color flag, singing of the national anthem, and speeches by the school principal and a few select students. The event always concluded with the distribution of sweets -- my favorite part. 

To commemorate this event, the government of India holds a magnificent parade in the capital each year, consisting of invited bands, military units, floats, and guests. India's military from all three branches--army, navy, and air force--marches to the band and participates in the singing of the national anthem, "Jana gana mana...," and other patriotic hymns. Cadets from the Indian military cadet core (NCC) and students from various local schools also participate in this event, which draws crowds in the hundreds of thousands. What follows the parade is a spectacular display of floats that grows each year in size, spirit, quality, and popularity. The floats celebrate the culture, diversity, and richness of India's many states. 

I'd like to leave you with a little teaser. Finn Air treated it's passengers on a flight to Delhi today with a dance to celebrate India's Republic Day 2012. Check it out! 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Vipassana - The Path to Freedom

Vipassana. (vee • puh • shuh • naa). To see things the way they are. That’s the literal translation of the word in Pali—the language of the Buddha. Vipassana is an ancient form of sitting meditation that the Buddha rediscovered and introduced to the world. 

For ten consecutive days a few summers ago, casting aside all luxury and self-indulgences and pledging to adhere to the course rules, I enrolled in and attended a vipassana meditation retreat offered by Spiritual Master S. N. Goenka. Total silence and breath observation characterize this retreat. At the time, I didn’t have the faintest idea of just how swiftly this experience would transpire change. 

So, what did the Buddha want us to see? 

Of the six sense portals of sight, smell, taste, hearing, touch, and thought, the sense of sight is perhaps the most used but least valued. When aroused from bed, the first sight to greet the ancient human was the natural brightness of the early morning sun; most modern humans see the alarm clock’s blinking digits. Sight permits the safe and efficient completion of movement-oriented tasks: walking, running, lifting, climbing, driving, swimming, grooming, cutting, cooking, cleaning, stirring, kicking, and punching. Sight allows us to distinguish the colors of the rainbow, read the printed word, write a letter, watch a movie, type an email, dial a phone number, message friends on Facebook. Sight is a stand-alone entity in that it facilitates the accomplishing of tasks often times without the aid of thinking. These are examples of external or “outer” sights that occur on a daily basis. They are automatic, routine actions that don’t depend on meditation for completion. 

Surely, this isn’t what the Buddha preached about? 

What the Buddha actually referred to was “inner” vision, or that which allows human transformation through self-observation and introspection. So, how does external sight transform into “inner” vision, and in doing so, transform an individual? Also, how is an ancient meditation technique such as vipassana relevant in the digital age? 

Vipassana is the practice of examining the mind through silence and breath observation. Becoming aware of the mental chatter by passively observing the mind’s phantom dramas, and accepting feelings and emotions as transitory entities leads to the understanding that human success depends largely on an honest ability to look inside—at the dark side—and weed out the demons while embracing the vision of a deeper, more meaningful life. 

The practice of vipassana opened up my mind to phenomenal personal growth and spiritual insight. The three take-away messages from the ten-day vipassana retreat were untie the noose of sense gratification, accept the reality of “change,” and unleash the grip of fear. 

We will explore these messages in my future posts. We will focus mainly on analyzing the relevance of vipassana in the digital age. 

May the force of silence be with you

Until then, be well.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Shhh…The Language of Silence

People cringe when they hear the word “meditation.” It sounds so spiritual, right? A picture of the Dalai Lama zooms into view and sweat begins to stream down towards the rapidly beating pulse in the hollow of the throat.

What if people heard “silence” instead? Silence is used and practiced more popularly. Parents tell their children to hush; teachers instruct their students to quiet down; movie-goers turn off their conversations and cell phones. Clearly, silence has value.

What if I said, “Silence transforms?” Would that look and sound appealing? Notice how much importance we give to external, sense perceptions—that, which we can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch?

How about paying attention to that which can’t be seen by the naked eye, but chills the brain; or that which can’t be touched, but tightens the muscles; that which can’t be sniffed, but burns the lungs; that which can’t be heard, but throbs in the ears; and that which can’t be tasted, but produces a sick dread in the pit of the stomach?

It’s downright scary for people to acknowledge paralyzing thoughts and feelings, which keep them locked up in unhealthy patterns. For example, sex, alcohol, drugs, food, power, fame, money—the list is exhaustive, really. People take refuge in material pursuits, falsely believing that these pursuits will lead to Nirvana. Life becomes a contrived cat-and-mouse game as individuals mindlessly chase after the next job, the next house, the next spouse/partner. Over time, the repetition of these choreographed behaviors only reinforces addictions, compulsions and emotional dysfunction, as also despair, dissatisfaction and emptiness, hurling peace and contentment into an orbit in a distant galaxy.

So, what’s the solution, you ask? Allow me to share my personal journey of self-discovery. A ten-day silent (vipassana meditation) retreat that I attended back in 2008 transformed not just my perspective on life, but also my future. Thus was born my first publication, “Inner Pilgrimage: Ten Days to a Mindful Me.”

Silence or meditation is a tool that can help an individual transcend external chaos and confusion, surrender to their inner calling, and resurrect their authentic self. Ultimately, individuals realize that happiness and satisfaction lie in the present moment—the here and now—the ultimate motivator for living a balanced life.

Silence isn’t just for monks and holy people; it’s for the general populace too—for you and for me. Silence offers a solution to taming stress and anxiety—a daily experience of digital-agers. Silence can help individuals connect with themselves just like Facebook helps individuals connect with the world.

For me personally, meditation has induced a sense of awareness that is helping me weather life’s challenges in a calm and positive way. It has lessened my dependence on external approval and acceptance, promoting openness, curiosity, empathy, generosity, and emotional health. I live mindfully and focus on enjoying the journey of life with a positive outlook. Silence enables me to operate in a realm in which I’m truly excited to be myself and I’m energized to serve the greater whole.

So, why not give silence a try? Who knows, it could lead you to step into uncharted territories, or simply boost your confidence at work. Either way, you’ll find a new expression of yourself begin to emerge. Now, isn’t that something worth exploring?