Saturday, December 24, 2011

Letting go...

I have difficulty in dealing with people who try to control my life. Who ask me to do certain things which I am not willing to do. My initial response to these requests (which I interpret as "orders") is a form of psychological reactance---I will do opposite of what is asked of me or defiantly refuse to comply. Being an Indian and raised in a conservative brahmin family, I am expected to be an obedient daughter, daughter-in-law, wife ....but I have resisted all forms of control. Fortunately for me, my husband pretty much lets me do whatever I am interested in, and has supported my pursuance of meditation--which includes long absences from home. However, I have not been comfortable with requests from my mother, and resist what I see as attempts to control my life.

My practice of meditation helps me resolve this kind of situation as well. Initially, so enamored I was with Vipassana meditation, that I totally refused to perform rituals of prayer and puja or visit temples. If I did so, I would do it with reluctance. Now, having a much better understanding of the practice as well as the traditions and rituals I was raised in, the conflict is minimized greatly.My teachers in meditation always enquired about my family and advised that I never quarrel or neglect family responsibilities in my pursuance of the path. Addressing the conflicts that sometimes seem to arise in visiting temples and the meditation practice which is devoid of rituals, the teacher in my last 30 day course in Jaipur said---Radhi, when you can give metta to all beings in this universe, small and big, visible and invisible, why can't you share that metta with with gods and goddesses in temples and the invisible beings there? That resonated very well with my thoughts as well, and erased the few traces of reluctance I might have had in visiting temples.

However, two days ago when my mother called and asked me to visit the temple on a particular day along with my entire family, my old self popped up its resistance to orders and control. Being the good, polite daughter that I was, I gave a non-committal answer. I struggled with the request for about an hour or so, and then suddenly stopped--I realised how attached I was to my ideas, my views, my opinions. I realised that I had no problems going to a temple, my resistance was what I perceieved to be my mother's attempt at control--telling me what I should do on a particular day. I decided to let go of that perception. I decided to get dis-engaged with my interpretations, my thoughts and my opinions. Ah! what freedom there is when one is willing to let go! I happily went to the temple with Raja and Pavithra and covered a few more errands before returning home.

While the above incident required some deliberate effort in order to put in practice my new awakening, in some other instances, it is relatively smooth and effortless. As when I causally ran into an ex-colleague at my university and she looked away when I greeted her. For a fraction of second, I felt insulted and my mind was about to start interpreting the incident in negative ways and I effortlessly changed it with thoughts of compassion. Maybe she has some problem? why would she ignore me otherwise? May she come out of her difficulties....The next day I happened to meet her again at a common friend's Christmas party and while she looked a trifle sheepish, I could respond with the same warmth and care as I always had in previous occasions. Liberation! liberation from the bondages of emotions and attachment.

I could see the gains of my last course at Jaipur being sustained in my life outside of the course.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


It was a tutorial on Regression (Statistics). After working a number of problems with the students, I was instructing them the steps to find the Regression Line on SPSS. There are very few students in the tutorial class, so I walked to this quiet girl to see how she was progressing with her work. I guided her and then asked her to write the equation for the Regression line. As she hesitated, I told her the equation---Y(hat) = bX + a
Her fingers opened and closed, and she tried to put her pencil on paper, but couldn't write Y...and when she did after a few trials, she couldn't get the 'hat' correctly on Y. I gently asked her to do it but was very surprised that she couldn't write more than that. Only then it dawned on me that she was feeling overwhelmed with my presence next to her. Her anxiety was so much that she couldn't write this simple equation.

I moved away, but was quite taken aback by her behavior. And yet it was somewhat familiar......many years ago I was such a student...scared of the teacher in school, afraid to make mistakes, afraid of looking stupid, with a background of comments such as "Can't you do such a simple thing?" " you are so slow" "how long you take to grasp such a simple thing!" whirring in my head.

Its been a long journey for me since those days of ignorance and fear. To some extent life's experiences teach one to become confident and competent, knocking off some of the fear & anxiety. However, a slow and steady transformation came about ever since I attended courses in Vipassana meditation and started practicing regularly. People who knew me in my teens and twenties are amazed at the changed person I have become.

Focusing on the breath coming in and going out of the nostrils helps to concentrate the mind. And this concentration brings about a sense of confidence in the person, for concentration helps one to be focused when engaged in a task and thus working far more efficiently than an unfocused person. This greater efficiency in carrying out tasks increases the person's confidence. This is one of the many benefits of meditation.Staying on task, noticing when the mind has strayed by distractions, gently getting it back on task--this sounds so simple but can become a challenge for people who are unused to meditation. Like the girl in my class. Performing simple actions such as writing down an equation became so impossible because her mind was overcome with fear. The reactive part of her brain could only experience fear and anxiety blocking the higher order cognitive processes.

We rarely understand the necessity to train our mind to become free from fear and anxiety. We are only interested in stuffing it with more and more information even before the mind knows how to deal with this information. Dealing with information becomes easier when the mind is concentrated and negative emotions are kept out of the way of information-processing.

I do my bit of teaching meditation to as many children as I can and who are interested in joining the courses we conduct. But I often wonder how I can reach out to a larger audience. A lot of people are unconvinced about the benefits of meditation or are just lazy to practice it regularly. Because, unlike most of the activities in the present day world, it is not a quick-fix therapy, cannot be given in bite-sized modules or crash courses. It requires some valuable time off from the busy schedules that people are currently involved. Little do they realise that that time devoted to meditation can transform their lives removing layers and layers of fear and anxiety, like it did mine!