Why you should turn your husband into a runner

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Doing repetitive monotonous things are meant for machines, robots or ‘servants’ (if you are part of the Indian middle class).

I find some of these activities highly therapeutic and enjoyable.

Allow me to explain.

Let’s start with running. Who wants to keep a rhythmic motion minute after minute for hours together? Especially when the alternatives are an electric duet of squash or a languid stroll masquerading as a sport (yes – it’s golf I allude to).

After years of persisting with this particular monotonous activity, I have the answer to Why oh Why.

Every runner likes a fast time (PB in our lingo) every now and then but a particular class of runner is not single-minded about PB’s to the exclusion of everything else.

Why does this class of runner keep running when there’s no race in sight or when he’s not necessarily training for one?

Running, for this obsessive runner, is akin to meditation. In fact it is meditation. He runs to still his mind because he can’t (or won’t) meditate by physically sitting still.

If you are one of those types who just can’t sit still for protracted periods and have always wanted to meditate, well… running is just what the guru ordered for you.

No need to signup for that mindfulness workshop with gushing reviews from the resident startup czar or Arianna Huffington. Find yourself a nearby trail or a safe road (heck, even a treadmill will do)and you are sorted.

What about group meditation, you ask? We call it the weekend long run with a local running group. Finding a group is so so easy. And there’s no such thing as an obnoxious ‘group’. Sure.. there are self-absorbed, self-centered runners in every group but they are few and far in between and, as is running’s wont, the activity inexorably works its smoothening magic on them too.

There are other monotonous activities I find soothing as well.

Night driving on American interstate and county highways. Dark cabin with a lit dashboard. Twin lights spraying the black asphalt ribbon. Cruise control on. Classic rock station on. Only steering with a modicum of alertness required. Awake passenger(s) optional.

Doing dishes. Soaping the disparate dishes in a structured way. Set the faucet to just the optimal flow before rinsing. Arranging the dishes in just the optimal way to maximize draining and drying. The right music can be an experience enhancer for this activity.

Putting clothes out to dry.

Folding washed clothes.

Droning on the didgeridoo.

In one of Murakami’s novels, the protagonist would start ironing anytime his mind was disturbed. I can see ironing’s potential as a wonderfully soothing activity but it happens to be one of the few household chores we’ve outsourced – alas!

Closing note: Original title of this post was All the monotonous things. New title is supposed to maximize link bait. Did it work?

Been there seen that

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vedanta_treatise_bookcoverA common thread running across all Indian/Eastern spiritual traditions is some form of meditation.

The variations come in the form of how one meditates, whether it is the sole instrument for spiritual advancement or step 12 of 12, use or non-use of an internal mantra, generic or personalized mantra, addition of a group meditation session every now and then.

Are there more variations? Possibly.

The above is a reasonable representation of the traditions I’ve encountered in my search over the past few decades. A search that could be described as oscillating between the dilettante’ic and the serious.
A few traditions that are conspicuously different from the aforementioned patterns are Jiddu Krishnamurti (JK), Swamy Parthasarathy of The Vedanta Academy (SP), and Michael Singer (MS).

JK is the most widely known among the trio. MS, I reckon, is well-known and heard in the US.

My wife and I had the good fortune of having listened to SP’s lectures on the Bhagawat Gita in the Bay Area – 3 years in a row at that! His book Vedanta Treatise is a fine fine read. I cannot recommend it enough.

One of SP’s peeves against the long list of meditation prescribing gurus is that not everyone is ready (read “prepared”) for it. Perhaps not different from the Gita’s teachings where Krishna outlines four different types of yogas. Different strokes for different folks.

Furthermore, for the ones suited for meditation and putting in (let’s say) a daily hourly session, SP asks “How do you stay peaceful for the rest of your waking hours?”

How does one observe one’s thoughts in the din and roar of the marketplace?

JK’s prescription is simple. And frustrating.

Just observe your thoughts, he keeps saying. That’s the ONLY thing you can/must do. No guru required.

JK’s probably most vociferous in making the case for “no guru required” but that’s fodder for another post.

My wife once asked SP, “What should we parents do for our children?”

His answer: “Just be good role models. Kids watch what you DO more than what you SAY.”

When pressed on what kind of daily practice kids might benefit from, he suggested the following (also described in Vedanta Treatise):

As part of the bedtime routine, have the child do a slow action replay of the events of the day. We followed this for some time with our older son and it went something like this “I got up in the morning. Went to the bathroom. Brushed my teeth. Changed my clothes..<blur of activity updates at school>.. had my dinner. Brushed my teeth.”

Lot of chuckling in the preamble. Unpredictable duration of rambling in the middle when my wife and I had to resist the urge to ask questions.

This was a delayed watch-your-thoughts exercise. Without ‘judging’ the thoughts. Imperfect and incomplete recollection for sure. But it was something.

I was introduced to MS through his book The Untethered Soul, a thoughtful gift from an old school friend I recently met after 30+ years.

The prevailing theme in MS’s book is closest to JK but he presents the observation process in the form of blocking (“holding on” to thoughts/memories) vs releasing (letting the thoughts”pass through”). Repetitive at times but not frustrating at all. While expounding on his theme, he invokes Ramana Maharishi the most (among the Indian masters).

Back to JK.

This time through the lens of KR, a faithfully focused practitioner of JK’s teachings. Over the years we’ve had numerous conversations on the JK Method – with him predominantly sharing, me listening and questioning.

The JK Method is really all about patterns, KR says.

Patterns come naturally to him. You see, he is a software geek, an avid (former) blindfold chess player and a wonderful human being.

What is memory but a unique thought pattern stored away in our memory banks.

By way of a simplistic classification, all our memories are either “pleasure evoking” or “pain evoking”.

We hold on and feel the need to keep “replaying” our pleasant memories and, by the same token, suppress the unpleasant memories although, at times, we replay the painful ones in a masochistic way.

What about the fresh deluge of thoughts? Every waking moment. Day after day after day?

Barring those rare moments of “performing action while completely immersed”, every new thought bears a pattern/signature not very different from the multitude born in the past.

Observing these thoughts at the birth allows us to see the seemingly automatic sequence of “Oh! that was good. Hey, that reminded me of <blah blah>…. Hmm.. that’s not a nice thing he said, makes me look bad… hey, that’s totally unfair, I don’t like this person at all.. she’s insufferable and I’m getting… ANGRY!”

I can’t claim to be anything but a tyro in these matters of the thoughts and beyond. The only ‘progress’ (if I may say so) is that each time I see a recurring pattern (of my ego getting bruised or the antipodal massaged ego) I get amused. Amused at the sheer predictability of it.

I’m told that if I observe these patterns often enough, then I’ll be a changed person.

Changed in a Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle way.

MS would say I’d be blocking a lot less thoughts and releasing a heck of a lot more.

What then? The great quietude?

Somebody once remarked “there is nothing new under the sun”.

One Google search later, a Biblical reference found:

What has been will be again,

what has been done will be done again;

there is nothing new under the sun.

So it is with thoughts.

Been there. Seen that.

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Closing note: this post happens to be #300. Yea! I hit a triple century! It took me only 8 years and a few months but still.

What progress, oh human being?

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I found another gem from Pandit Usharbudh Arya’s Mantra & Meditation:

When you create a spaceship, the metal and machinery converted into the spaceship has made progress through the touch of human intelligence. When you can flash a light on or off, the light has made progress through the touch of your ingenuity. But what progress, human being, have you made in the past five thousand years? If you were left standing alone in a desert or a mountain cave without any material props, without anything external to depend on or project onto, if you stood absolutely naked in solitude and silence, what could you do with your six-foot frame? In what way are you an improvement on what the man five thousand years could do? Are your senses under greater control? Can you divert, through the application of your wisdom, the attention of an opponent from an attitude of conflict and turn his mind from war to peace? Can you control your anger today more than the man of five thousand years ago? Can you pull yourself out of a depression without paying another human fifty dollars an hour? Can you slow down your breath and thus prolong your life span? Can you improve your digestive function internally, or permit greater absorption of life-giving oxygen into your system? Can you, at will, from within your body, produce antidotes to poisons and pollutions administered to you by your own product, civilization? And finally, can you know and dwell in your ever-pure, ever-wise and ever-free nature without being agitated by external inducements?

These are the things that yogis can do. Their path leads to true progress of humankind, but yours leads to the progress of houses, ships, trains, and other forms of metal and rock. These are necessary for our physical comfort, but they are not necessarily comforting for the mind, as the ever-increasing incidence of mental disturbance in modern civilization attests to.