Sad But True…

The text that follows was originally published by Jawad S. Mian at Stray Reflections.

Over the summer, Science magazine published an instructive report that spoke to the challenges of the disengaged mind. We quote from the editor’s summary:

Nowadays, we enjoy any number of inexpensive and readily accessible stimuli, be they books, videos, or social media. We need never be alone, with no one to talk to and nothing to do. Wilson et al. explored the state of being alone with one’s thoughts and found that it appears to be an unpleasant experience. In eleven studies, they found that participants typically did not enjoy spending 6 to 15 minutes in a room by themselves with nothing to do but think, that they enjoyed doing mundane external activities much more, and that many preferred to administer electric shocks to themselves instead of being left alone with their thoughts. Most people seem to prefer to be doing something rather than nothing, even if that something is negative.

How strange. Perhaps the French philosopher Blaise Pascal was correct in observing that “Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for our miseries, and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries.” Life is difficult for many of us, but very often we make it even more difficult for ourselves by the way we think. In our age of connectedness and perpetual motion, there is something to be said for cultivating stillness in order to summon some emotional and mental clarity. We suspect that most of man’s problems arise from his abandoning the religion of solitude. Pico Iyer, in The Art of Stillness, reveals the unexpected pleasures of sitting still, without being distracted, as a way to uncover a form of well-being that is inherent to the nature of our minds.

He reflects with a sense of nostalgia:

Not many years ago, it was access to information and movement that seemed our greatest luxury; nowadays it’s often freedom from information, the chance to sit still, that feels like the ultimate prize…. We’ve lost our Sundays, our weekends, our nights off—our holy days, as some would have it; our bosses, junk mailers, our parents can find us wherever we are, at any time of day or night. More and more of us feel like emergency-room physicians, permanently on call, required to heal ourselves but unable to find the prescription for all the clutter on our desk.

Iyer believes that this is the reason why many people seem to be turning to yoga or meditation or tai chi. They are all desperate to unplug.

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How many times have we imagined sitting on the banks of a river in perfect tranquility or leaving everything behind and retreating to the top of a mountain to live an unperturbed life?

From time to time, we all feel overwhelmed by the demands of this world and would like nothing more than to withdraw into a more peaceful state. But harmony often eludes the untutored mind.

Much has been written about meditation as the solution for the modern man or woman, given his or her frantic schedule. According to popular blogger Maria Popova:

Over the centuries, the ancient Eastern practice has had a variety of exports and permutations in the West, but at no point has it been more vital to our sanity and psychoemotional survival than amidst our current epidemic of hurrying and cult of productivity. It is remarkable how much we, as a culture, invest in the fitness of the body and how little, by and large, in the fitness of the spirit and the psyche—which is essentially what meditation provides.

Research has shown this can lead to better health and clearer thinking, even emotional intelligence. And if you’re Ray Dalio, it can even lead to bigger profits. As acknowledged by the founder of the world’s largest hedge fund, “Meditation, more than any other factor, has been the reason for what success I’ve had.”

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We find all cultures of the world steeped in esoteric practices of one form or another to provide an effective means for acquiring self-knowledge. A kind of introspection and detached observation that helps people discover an even higher aspect of themselves. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, it is contemplative prayer. In the far Eastern traditions, vehicles of meditation often have to do with mastering aspects of breathing or the heartbeat. In the Zen Buddhist tradition, it is sitting with an awareness of thoughts and feelings without clinging to them. In Islamic tradition, it is emptying your heart and invoking God’s name. The objective of these practices is not to force yourself into a state of peace – which would be counterintuitive – but instead, to refocus your attention away from the ego or intellect toward the calm, pristine depths within. To attain harmony, one has to seek that lilt which is present in the innermost core of our being. Acco rding to Inayat Khan, “It is just like the sea: the surface of the sea is ever moving, yet the depth of the sea is still. And so it is with our life. If our life is thrown into the sea of activity, it is on the surface. We still live in the profound depths that are still, in that peace. But the key is to become conscious of that peace which can be found within ourselves.” As the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius shared in one of his Meditations, nowhere can man find a quieter or more untroubled retreat than in his own soul. You need not sail to St. Barts or travel to the Himalayas.

Meditation, in the words of Inayat Khan, is not some stoic physical position or arduous mental exercise that you do for 20 minutes a day. It is really a letting go, the lifting of a veil, in our view, which leads to a marvelous change of viewpoint. By awakening our self, we develop more attentive and appreciative eyes that are so essential for a true reflection of the world.

We don’t view it as just another to-do item.

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And I Will…

We all have things in our life that oppose us.

This is important. Opposition is good. Opposition provides a catalyst for growth. Without opposition we would have nothing to push against. Nothing to push off and set us growing in a new direction. We would stay comfortable and never change.

In my life I have learnt to be grateful for those situations, people and things that oppose me. Without them I would not be who I am.

That said, sometimes there is opposition in the form of a person or thing that we just get stuck on. That person or thing that we are seemingly unable (at least for a time) to overcome, work around or assimilate as we need to in order to learn and move on. It could be that one person in your social circle that you’ve never quite come to grips with – frenemy anybody?

    frenemy
   ˈfrɛnəmi/
    noun    informal
  1. a person with whom one is friendly despite a fundamental dislike or rivalry.

Or, is it something else; something more difficult? What demon stalks you? Is it an addiction (habit; substance)? A point at which you perpetually stumble?

I have practiced yoga on-and-off for about 10 years. The past 12 months have seen my most consistent application to the field, attending classes 4-5 times per week. With this amount of concentrated effort comes natural improvement. Postures become easier; flexibility is gained. Progression is made to more advanced poses.

Yet, some things that were difficult a year ago are still difficult for me today. I’ve not found the right way to handle the opposition that stands between where I am and where I want to be.

A case in point?

My yoga nemesis…the crane!!!!!!!

Even the most basic version of this posture (shown below) has consistently eluded me.

Crane - Basic

A week ago I decided that this would stop. There was nothing physical or material in my way. My problem mastering the crane could be found in one easily identifiable place. Namely, the space located immediately to the left of my right ear and to the right of my left ear – my mind!

This mental hurdle was 100% self-made. The good news being that because I had put it there I also had the ability to remove it. The crucial element required to achieve this was an act of will.

    will
    wɪl/
    noun
  1. the faculty by which a person decides on and initiates action.
    control deliberately exerted to do something or to restrain one’s own impulses.
    a deliberate or fixed desire or intention.
With a simple choice and commitment of intention I was able to get out of my own way and attain something that had escaped me for over 12 months…a strong, stable crane. (Well, for 30 seconds at least.) Now, as you can see below, there remain many more steps along the path to ultimate mastery of the crane:

Crane - Intermediate      Crane - Intermediate 2 Crane - Advanced 2     Crane - Advanced

But a significant step has been made, because I simply decided that I would.

And I will…

PS – I may also have been inspired by the following video. WOW!

Slomo: The Man Who Skated Right Off The Grid

Wow!
I stumbled across this video embedded in an article posted to LinkedIn.
It is a 16 min doco on a 69 yo man in the US who spends his days skating along the beach. After spending his entire life following the patterns dictated by society he had built a successful career as a doctor, generating significant material wealth in the process.
Slomo2
A chance meeting with a 93 yo man in a hospital cafeteria helped him realise that he was trapped in a rational world.
In short, he had become an asshole.
So, he stopped being a doctor and started to skate.
That was 15 years ago.
Now his purpose is to spend as much time skating as possible (sometimes thru the night), in the hope that he just might make it to the end of his life without becoming an asshole again.
I dare you to watch him skate and NOT smile
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What Is Your Purpose?

I was talking to a friend recently when the subject of purpose came up. This was purpose as in “what is the reason that you are here”? They identified their purpose as being to provide for their household; and as CEO of a successfully family-run SME, providing the means for others to support their families.

This seemed quite symmetrical to me. In satisfying their primary personal purpose (i.e. providing for their household) they were motivated to also pursue a professional purpose (i.e. running a successful business).

With respect to professional purpose, numerous studies confirm that employees self-report as being both happier with their work and more productive if they identify with the vision and goals of their team/company. Identifying with these things, when coupled with a feeling that they are making a valuable contribution towards group goals, they are afforded a sense of purpose. They are aware that they are a part of something that is bigger than themselves.

What Is Your Purpose?

What are they trying to achieve, individually and collectively? Is it a sales target? New business win? Project delivered on time? Striving to be the best manufacturer of thing-a-me-jigs? It really doesn’t matter as long as it has meaning to the individuals involved.

Professionally, the past 6 months have seen me introduced to a number of people who share a similar set of values and goals. Joining forces with a few of them, we are working together with the common purpose of building a viable business.

Personally, I find my self spending time working on becoming a better:

  • partner
  • friend
  • runner (super important; less than 8 months to the 10th Atacama Crossing!)
  • fundraiser

These are always in flux, as short-term goals and milestones are achieved, accompanied by rebalancing as life dictates.

What about you? Do you know what your purpose is?

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