Jul 1, 2022

Book Review: Choosing a Path by Swami Rama



 From the book "Practical Yoga psychology" that I read a year ago, I learned the basics about the different paths of Yoga - Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga, and Raja Yoga.

I picked up this book "Choosing a Path" to understand these paths in depth. It was quite a dense and theoretical read. Each path is explained in detail - the principles and practices to be followed in the journey.

It was an informative read with good examples to relate to. There were many inspiring and thought-provoking phrases/passages throughout the book.

The chapters on Jnana Yoga and Raja Yoga were super interesting and they seem to be the paths that I'm able to connect and relate to easily.

"In the path of knowledge, blind faith is completely shunned. Know, analyze, and then realize. By realizing the Truth, faith comes itself. Such a faith can never mislead one."

I have heard from multiple sources that the Universe / Supreme cosmic power is always guiding us in the right direction. Once I understood and experienced it myself, I started to believe in this truth firmly.

It's certainly not a light read to skim through in one sitting. It requires time to read and digest the information. I was able to follow the author until the 4 paths of Yoga, after which the chapters on Laya Yoga and Kundalini Yoga were so complex. They went over my head and I couldn't understand them completely.

Key takeaways for me:

The preparatory stage is crucial before choosing a specific path. In this stage, we consciously move toward our inner world. We relook at our habits - food, sleep, breath, mindfulness, concentration.

Raja Yoga and Ashtanga Yoga are the same. The first 4 limbs of Ashtanga Yoga come under the category of Hatha Yoga.

The first 2 limbs - Yamas and Niyamas need to be incorporated consciously into our daily lives, and only then the 3rd limb - Asanas will be effective on our body.

Deeper practices of Pranayama, especially Kumbhaka (retention) are advanced stages and should be performed with caution or with the guidance of a Guru.

A few favorite passages:

"Negative thoughts convert the nutrients of food into poison. Thus the body builds up toxins. Inhalation and exhalation are like two caretakers whose duties are regulated by our mental life."

"Only by studying the present portion of one's own manuscript, of one's own life, is it possible to know life."

"Without knowing oneself on all dimensions, knowing the world or others is of no use."

"Self-condemnation leads to guilt feelings, and guilt feelings create psychosomatic disorders."

"Expectation is the mother of all problems. Expectation mingled with attachment brings all the miseries of the world."

"One has to learn to discipline himself so that his senses do not dissipate his energy and his mind."

"Creating love for one's duty will give freedom from stress."

"Studying one's own thoughts, emotions, deeds, and actions is the real study."

Jun 30, 2022

Reflection



 There were years when many aspects of my external life were progressing so well - career, higher education, relationship, financial growth, and stability. Not once, did I question or think about why things are going smoothly?

But in the past 1.5 years, when one challenge after another kept hitting, I have questioned every single time - "Why me? What did I do wrong? Why do I need to face this? Why is life being unfair to me?".

For a brief time, I searched for answers in astrology and thought a lot about karma and past decisions.

After a certain point, I realized that questioning, analyzing, or overthinking aren't helping and in fact, making things worse.

It is better to give rest to the intellectual, logical mind in such situations and accept and surrender to the Universe.

Every experience is a teacher who has come to teach us something.

Every challenge is a torch that shows us light on areas that need our attention.

Every interaction or information that comes our way is guiding us in a certain direction.

Reading philosophy / spiritual books helped me gain perspectives that I needed the most. 

Grateful to these books (and their authors) that came into my life in the last 6 months. Loved reading them all - totally immersed, feeling awed whenever a deeper question gets answered and when a shift in perspective happened effortlessly.

Which of these books did you find most intriguing, after reading my book reviews?

Jun 29, 2022

Let's build our strength



 "namakkum vellakkaarangalukkum enna thatha vithiyaasam coloura thavira?" ("What's the difference between us Indians and the Westerners, apart from our skin color?"), I remember asking my grandfather this question 30 years back. He was helping me with an essay on the freedom struggle.

His response - "Avanga physically strong, naama mentally strong" ("They are physically strong, we are mentally strong")


I didn't probe further, but his answer got strongly etched in my memory.


I'd request you to not take this statement literally and start an argument here. The point is not about whether this statement is true or not.


The body is flexible when we are born and it slowly deteriorates as we age. Whereas, the mind is fragile when we are kids and slowly builds strength through life experiences. 


Physical health across the world has been deteriorating over the past 3 decades because of food habits, sedentary lifestyle, various ailments, lack of sleep, etc.


Mental strength / mental stamina / resilience of our mind - let's ponder over this for a few seconds. 


Think about your grandparents and how they responded to stressful situations. 

With each passing generation, our mental resilience seems to be reducing. 


The practices to build our mental strength are no longer prioritized - deep friendships, a sense of community, disciplined life, delayed gratification, concentration/focus on a certain activity, work/life harmony, and the strong support of an extended family.


The practices that affect our mental health have become common parlance - instant gratification, excess sensory inputs, constant stimulations, unwillingness to accept and open up our vulnerabilities to a close friend/family member, increased work pressure, individualistic mindset, and the ever-increasing aspiration towards reaching the goals set by the society.


It's a double whammy when our physical health also gets impacted by the low priority given to our mental health.


A few recent observations:

  • Wanna eat chocolate? There is a 10-min delivery option provided by 5-6 apps that will gratify your desire instantly.
  • Continuous honking from cars as soon as the signal turns green or about to turn green
  • Movies have become more violent and gory these days
  • Reels/Shorts have reduced our attention span so much. Mindless scrolling of these short videos is considered a relaxation activity and yet we feel more drained after 20 minutes 
  • Came across a job description on LinkedIn with this tag - "Very full time, Remote". What does this mean? Earlier, you were taking restroom breaks and now you don't get those too?


If the same question was asked today, my grandfather's response would have been - "oru vithiyaasamum illa, ellarum namma strengthsa ezhandhu nikkurom" ("No difference now, all of us have lost our strengths").


Let's gain back our strength - both physical and mental. Our conscious efforts will help us to choose the right path instead of the easy one.

Jun 28, 2022

9 steps to simplify life in 40s



 Aging is like that dreaded, inevitable board exam.

Some choose to go unprepared and wing it at the last minute, hoping that luck would favor them.

Some end up facing out-of-syllabus questions in the form of sudden, unexpected ailments.

Some might know that the exam questions will be tough and yet they wouldn't be willing to prepare for it.

Only a few start their preparation many years in advance.

"What if I go unprepared? What's the worst that could happen?", I hear your question!

Our entrenched habits, routines, rituals, beliefs, and character can either be life-serving or life-crippling. If these belong to the latter, then facing aging unprepared will end up causing complications not only for us but also for our loved ones (spouse, children, and grandchildren).

For boarding an international flight, we reach the airport 3-4 hours earlier. There are multiple steps and procedures before we set foot on the flight. Do we directly enter the flight at the last minute? Not possible.

For the journey into the next stage of our lives, don't we need to start our preparations at least a few years earlier?

I believe the 40s is the right age to start the process when we have the physical strength and mental willpower to take action.

How does one prepare for aging?

Introspect and Simplify ALL aspects of our lives

Here are 9 steps that I have learned through observation and experiences in the past couple of years. For ease of reading, I'm writing them in a YOU tone.

(1) Reduce or Eliminate dependency on lifelong medications

If you are diagnosed with health ailments and need to be under medication for a lifetime, look into the prescriptions. Understand the dosage and need for every single pill. Correct your lifestyle habits (food, exercise, sleep) and reduce the medications as much as possible. Without lifestyle changes, the dosage will keep increasing, causing numerous side effects and reducing the quality of life in your senile years.

(2) Reduce the number of things needed to live a day in your life

Make a list of things you use every single day. Understand the need for each one of them. Try and experiment to live off a single suitcase for a few months and see what are those absolute essentials you need.

(3) Reduce the number of possessions you own

Get rid of items you no longer need. Declutter your home and digital storage. Don't put that arduous task of clearing out your hoarded items on top of your loved ones' heads after you move on.

(4) Reduce the number of tasks you do in your daily routine

If you reach a stage in your life where you no longer have the physical/mental ability to pursue a task, learn to let go of them. There is no point dumping those tasks on your loved ones, just because you consider them to be important. Your beliefs and values may not resonate with your children. Forcing them to perform such tasks will only lead to conflict.

(5) Reduce attachment towards any rituals or routines, though they might have helped you in the past. Do not be rigid about the exact procedures or steps. Go easy on yourself and your loved ones. 

(6) Change habits that are not life-serving

It is first our DUTY to take care of our health before we put the DUTY guilt on top of our spouse/children's heads. It is unfair that we let our loved ones face the consequences of our poor health choices. Let's analyze those habits that spoil our health and try to stop them as early as possible.

(7) Become self-reliant in basic tasks 

If you are a man, learn these in your 40s if you haven't done so earlier - making coffee/tea for yourself, cooking basic meals, serving your food, using a washing machine, washing the cups/plates that you use, etc.

If you are a woman, learn these in your 40s if you haven't done so earlier - handling finances, visiting banks, understanding expenses, investments, making online bill payments, etc.

Ensure there is shared knowledge among family members on where important documents are organized in the home and the digital world.

(8) Understand common mental patterns and habitual reactions through self-awareness and observation. If our patterns point to entitlement, worry, anxiety, fear, egoistic attitude, or demand energies, then these end up becoming a huge bottleneck in our 60s/70s, when our physical body isn't at its full potential and our mental faculties are slowing down. 

Keep in mind, that our spouse will also be going through similar changes, both physically and mentally. Our children will be in their 30s, working full time and raising their young children. Such habitual patterns will only cause more mental agony to others in the family.

(9) Reduce desires as you age

Our health situation might be limiting us on multiple fronts - be it a restriction of physical movement, diet restrictions, slowing down digestion, etc. Yes, we might have eaten 12 pooris in one go in our 40s, but our digestive fire in our 70s may not be able to take this load. Reduce the quantity of food intake and number of meals if possible.

The 40s is considered the ideal time to build our retirement corpus. Agree with this thought, but unless we prioritize the above-mentioned areas of life, the retirement corpus will lose its value in no time.


Jun 27, 2022

2 issues with Don



 "Why should a person always become a doctor or an engineer? What if that person doesn't want to be either?"- D asked me this question while we were watching the Tamil movie "Don". She had earlier watched Nanban/3 idiots as well. I told her that it isn't that way these days and there are various career options available.

Though we both had fun while watching the movie (especially the scenes where SJ Surya aced it with superb voice modulation and body language), there are multiple aspects of the storytelling which I don't agree to.


(1) Talent doesn't arrive overnight in a parcel

In the movie, the hero realizes his talent one fine evening. He is not shown as someone who consciously works towards identifying his talent. Rather, he is shown as someone having fun, with a wish that he would identify his talent in those 4 years of Engineering.


It creates a false hope in the minds of youngsters. Talent doesn't dawn on you overnight, without putting any effort. None of us are born with a preset talent unless we are child prodigy.


As we progress on a particular skill, we eventually identify that we are good at it and then it becomes our talent. I have experienced this multiple times in my life so far.


I was never good at writing in English in my own words. Though I understood the concepts in school, I used to struggle to write on my own. I ended up mugging the text, to avoid this writing challenge. Many of us who think in our native language face this struggle. When I started blogging in 2004, I faced multiple issues - the words were not flowing freely, there were multiple grammatical errors, sentence structuring wasn't clear, and many more. Because of my consistent writing habit over the past 17 years, my writing skill has improved and has now become one of my talents. I see the same pattern, repeating for other skills such as reading, public speaking, and cooking.


A skill becomes your talent ONLY after you have invested conscious time and effort into it. Love what you do until it becomes your talent. Then you will do what you love.


(2) Hitting a child is not an expression of parental LOVE

Many people liked Don because of the emotional short story in the end - "Untold love". For me, that was the most problematic part of the whole movie.


The father character is portrayed as someone who yells at the child, slaps him, hits him violently in his college, pushes him to get 90% and above, doesn't encourage him for anything. He is depicted as a villain throughout the movie. I don't agree with the ending where child violence is justified in the name of love.


As I was watching the initial few scenes, all it reminded me of was the Senthamarai character in the movie "Adhisaya Piravi" and the dialogue he tells Rajnikanth - "Nee ozhukkam ullavanaa varanum nu dhaan onna adikkaren".


Will the audience agree that Senthamarai had untold love for Rajni? Or is it because in Don, the father character is played by Samuthirakani that we wouldn't mind the shift from villain to hero in the end?


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