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Archive for the ‘Karma’ Category

I have long felt that certain emotions are poison for the soul. Anger, hatred, jealousy, insecurity are but a few of these and I have talked of some of them elsewhere on this blog. However, this post intends to discuss another very malignant feeling, one that can actually exerts its toxin so far beyond its immediate sphere, that it often becomes impossible to check, or treat, its effects. I refer to bitterness that sort of corrosive, harmful bitterness that seeps through you and starts to be the bane of not just your mind and actions, but at a basic level, your very soul.

Some may feel it an exaggeration to credit bitterness with so much power. After all, we must all have fallen prey to one variation or other of this feeling when certain injustices (real or perceived) are meted out to us, by people or by life itself. However, I stick by what I assert. Bitterness is evil, it will hurt you far more than you may realise, it will spread through your life and lead to rot in otherwise perfectly healthy limbs of your “life tree”, until those branches that it has infected are good for nothing but destruction. I refer here to genuine bitterness, not a fit of pique or temporary upset or anger with a situation or person that hurt you or caused you grief or loss.

I sort of wonder why I choose to write this today, especially as I am actually finding this unexpectedly hard to do, unlike most of my other posts, where once I start, the flow of words is almost automatic. This is somehow different, maybe because I have very recently had to guard myself against the onslaught of resentment and bitterness at one of life’s latest curve balls thrown in my direction. Ok, let me be brutally honest. I did get angry, resentful and bitter for a while, a relatively short while I am proud to add, but still. The effects were almost instantaneous – that sense of loss of control, in turn causing mental stress, unhappiness and pointless regret on things ranging so far back, that I thought I had drawn a line under them a while ago. Thankfully, I checked myself before too long. Actually, I think it is more accurate to say, discussions with others near and dear to me reminded me of how unhealthy bitterness and resentment is, and that was probably my saving grace. I witness the effects of this sort of malignant bitterness at close quarters. I will not name names or relations, in fact, there is more than one person I have seen be a victim to such soul-destroying afflictions. They all teach me that it is essential to hone your “defense mechanism” against it and to ensure you are not corrupted by its effects.

It was an important lesson, a stark reminder of how, just as anger destroys the ability to reason, bitterness destroys the capacity to be happy in any meaningful way in your life. So how can you prevent feeling resentful, angry, hurt or bitter when something awful happens? I do not think you can, at least not momentarily, unless you are a truly exalted soul genuinely above any human vice. However, I firmly believe you can prevent these feelings before they deteriorate and spiral to a level that cannot be controlled. Ah yes, control – that is again the key. I found it very helpful to grasp my fear of losing control as one way to stop myself falling into the “bitterness trap”. See, the thing with feeling bitter is that you feel like that about one issue or a discrete range of problems that besets you, never imagining that this in turn is making you lose enjoyment in every other aspect of your life. And that to me is a real shame. No matter how bad things get, there is always hope and the world is subliminally beautiful and life is always worth living. By living I mean living with love and joy, not just empty meaningless existing. However, when your cup is already full of bitterness you simply cannot see the wood for the trees as such, that feeling becomes all-pervading and seriously impedes, if not utterly destroys, your capacity to enjoy other things, even if they are wholly unconnected to the situation or event that is the cause of your ill will. By consciously rising above it, just like you have to often force yourself to do with feelings of anger, you free yourself of its virulence.

It is the classic adage – you have to set yourself free from that vicious circle by genuinely recognising that bad things happen and we often experience things that are awful, hurtful, even belittling or crippling in any which way. If you can exercise your will and regain control of your being to the extent that you can abandon the bitterness without losing the experience and whatever it may teach you (good or bad), you will feel all the better of it. Good experiences will then be allowed to continue to filter into your life, in fact you can actively seek them out as you will not have abandoned positivity together with sweetness in your life, and then life will continue to demonstrate its numerous daily miracles to you. Oh, I have heard the counter arguments – you cannot help it, some things are so bad, you cannot control your reaction(s) to them. Yes, maybe, but I still maintain that you can, and should try to, control your long-term response to such events, situations or even people. After all, we are always co-conspirators in our destiny, that fine balance regulated by fate and free will. Maybe the tragedy that befell you was unavoidable and caused by some cosmic occurrence, but your reaction to it, is yours alone and you need to own it. It has always been my eventual realisation in the concept that by rising above my situation at any point, I get an empowering perspective and this allows me to look forward with hope and positivity, rather than backwards with regret and bitterness.

I would like to begin concluding with this wonderful short quote by Terry Brooks: “Hurt leads to bitterness, bitterness to anger, travel too far that road and the way is lost.”  Therefore, don’t lose the way, find yourself and a beautiful future for you and yours.

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The thought behind this piece has been fermenting in my mind for a while, but it has been given structure and form following a recent “comment exchange” with my dear friend and co-blogger, Tulika. Tulika- this one is for you, and whilst it will not come up to the high standard you set through your blog, I hope you enjoy some of the thoughts within it.

 The well known poem of “Footprints in the Sand” by Mary Stevenson has always been my favourite. Its very simplicity is amazing and no matter how many times I read it, it offers sound counsel in troubled times and strength when it is most needed. I am sure all know it – the lovely piece that describes the writer’s key life moments as sets of corresponding footsteps in the sand, mostly walking along with God. There are some points where there are two sets, hers and God’s, and then some points when there is only one set. It is these that the poet believes are her own steps. All the times that the steps are a singular set, she recalls are the low moments for her. As we are all won’t to do, she questions her Lord about why he abandoned her at those times. In it’s sublime climax she (and through her, we) are corrected by the ultimate sustainer, who explains that those prints at those times are His, as on each of those occasions, he was carrying her!

So it is with most of us. We are so quick to blame God for everything that goes “wrong” for us. God is an easy punching bag, we cannot physically see Him/Her, and even more importantly, He or She does not lash back at us in response. Oh, spare me those cautionary tales about a vengeful God who wreaks havoc on sinners. I have never subscribed to that theory and if you do, you may want to read no more of this piece. God is loving and forgiving, He loves us all, whether we acknowledge him or not and his capacity to love and forgive is, just like Him, unfettered and unlimited (I do not believe God is gender specific or even form-specific but for ease of reference, I shall continue to refer in the masculine).

Many will argue about the times that they have been afflicted with pain or tragedy in their lives. There rests the foundation for the belief that they were/ are punished for whatever wrong they may committed, whether comitted knowingly or not and regardless of whether they even acknowledge that to be an act/ acts to be deserving of retribution. I suggest the answer to that lies in the inexorable nature of your own actions, every action after all has a reaction. Oh, again, let me clarify – I do not believe that people always “deserve” what happens to them, no, that is too crude. Instead, I feel that there is a fine balance, constantly fluctuating and regulating itself, which combines a perfect symmetry of fate and action. It is too simplistic to believe that God sits there in literal judgement on each action and strikes down those who are guilty of some form of significant failing. Yes, I personally believe that there is a higher power who looks over us at all times, call that power what you will. The engineering of this incredible process is never visible unless you are willing to really see, not just look, and also agreeable to opening yourself up to faith and belief, unconstrained by requiring a physical manifestation, or “rational” explanation of each event or incident.

I do believe in fate, I feel that the vein of fate runs through all our paltry existence. I call it paltry as what is our life but a nano-second in the macrocosm of the universe. Therefore, whatever ills befall you, they are your lot to bear and it is how you face them that defines you as as a person. What I also firmly grasp on to, is that no matter how severe your suffering, God watches out for His own and if you have faith, it will see you through, in one way or other. I do not imply that your belief negates the suffering, no, the suffering is an essential component of almost all human existence, but that agony is made bearable and eventually relieved by a surrender to the supremacy of will beyond our comprehension. This is that moment when you understand that whilst you thought you were walking alone and bereft, you were infact being sustained by the creator, who never leaves you to suffer alone if you place your faith in Him.

It is this thought and this faith that always end up bringing me personal salvation, no matter how dire my straits are. This is no meaningless preaching without practice, it is my own experiences after I have crossed that metaphorical sandy stretch, which at the time felt worse than the most arid desert. I clung to my faith and He did carry me, safely delivering me to the “other” side and to sanity and hope and most importantly, to renewed happiness.

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I believe the concept detailed below has been much explored and nothing I write here is new, so I shall not be surprised if most find this post quite uninspiring and trite, but as a lot of you will know by now, I often write to reason things out for my benefit, so please bear with it if you can.

We are all warriors and are constantly at war. Each new day brings a battle or continues one we already find ourselves in. No, I have not got so lost in my preferred realm of fantasy fiction that I am actually turning delusional. I also do not mean that we are in some parallel mediveal universe, garbed in chain mail, brandishing impressive weaponary and fighting legions of enemies. Yet, fight we do – not only amonst ourselves, but with our own selves, daily. I refer to the battle that rages internally in us all, where the evil within rears its head in many guises and many forms, and needs defeating, if it is not to defeat us.

This should be no surprise as it has been the subject of myths and sagas since time immemorial.  Many will disagree – those epic battles I allude to were fought between armies, both human or supernatural, often a combination of both. They were spectacular tales of individual and cohesive bravery, displays of inspiring feats and skills of reknown, even Gods joined in some of them, or indeed were the subject of and participants of, some of those wars. I am not convinced. Yes, of course some of those battles may have been fought in fact, and some cleary were historical events. However, the depiction of most mythical battles, to me, are symbolic and mainly intended to represent the eternal battle that rages between good and evil. This is extended to encompass not just the extrinsic conflict between these two elemental forces, in each age and each day, in the guise of the constant struggle we all undergo, with our own selves.

For is it not a war we fight daily and is there not evil, not just around us, but within us all to be defeated?  What else are our vices such as anger, jealousy, greed, and in some cases, hate, to name but a few, other than the soldiers of evil, the forces of what is “dark” not just in the universe, but residing within our own selves? Often, it is harder to fight those elements within us, than it is to face up to people, situations or fears that are around us. Do not mistake me – I do not subscibe to theory that all, or even most of mankind, is evil. Quite the contrary, I believe in the inherent goodness present in each soul, or at least the potential for it to be present. However, whether that righteousness manifests itself or comes to the fore, is a matter of free will and choice for each individual, shaped by many factors and perhaps, to some extent, dependant on the level of self realisation achieved through personal effort, and possibly even strife. Otherwise, that very purity or virtue can be masked, or even totally subsumed by its antithesis, which also co-exists in all of us, at least in the form of its potential. Put simply, there is great capacity within each of us to do  “good” but there is also the possibility of considerable “evil”. What path we eventually choose, is up to us.

Indeed, sometimes we may not make a conscious decision. The grasp of evil or malice is subtle but tencious nevertheless. We may find that the negativity in us gradually sneaks up on us, eventually corroding everything that was shining bright and pure within our soul, if unchecked. For example, what may start as a simple craving for material betterment could become greed if we are not self aware and contained. It must be universally acknowledged that greed is poisonous, it exerts its influence powerfully and can easily strip away a significant part of, if not all, of the sterling qualities within us such as the desire to share, be content, be selfless. The same could apply to any other failing or iniquity that we may, and have the potential to be, capable of.

How then, can we guard against these often unseen enemies? Are we simply hostage to good fortume or perhaps a higher power, to ensure we do not fall before these foes and emerge the survivor from their onslaught? I do not believe so, as the danger is the greatest for those unaware and also perhaps careless. I suspect the answer may lie in constant vigilance. Just as a sentry cannot afford to sleep on guard duty, we must train ourselves to self-inspect and remain guarded that those negativities do not creep up on us, finding us complacent and defenceless, thereby being able to overpower us. Once we are captured, escape is extremely difficult, if not outright impossible. By policing your own actions and more importantly, your thoughts, you win a major skirmish, if not the battle itself. Other things may help – surround yourself with people similarly self-aware and dedciated to staying on the “right” side. The sentry on duty, can after all, be relieved at least temporarily by a comrade, whom he can trust. This is because he knows that should danger strike whilst he slumbers, his companion will raise the alarm and rouse him. Similarly, practising the art of positive living or exploring spirituality in whatever guise that appeals to you, could help you identify in time if you are at risk of giving in to any corrupting influence, and could well help you arrest its progress before it is too late.

If all else fails, ask yourself whether what you are doing, or thinking, is the right thing to do. Your innermost soul will seldom lie to you, and if it does, the battle I have been rambling on about may perhaps be already lost! However, for most, it is never too late and hope is eternal, so I remain very postive that a lot of us can learn and train ourselves to master the art of this warfare and yes, even win.  As described by Sun Tzu,Know thy self, know thy enemy. A thousand battles, a thousand victories” and also by the great Aristotle who said, “I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies; for the hardest victory is over self“.

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Aashi – this one is specially for you. Aashi, one of the sweetest people I have come to know recently, raised a really good question, or questions really, whilst commenting on my “Glass Houses” post. She essentially asked how you deal with the pain of those who let you down or outright hurt you, behave in a way that breaches every acceptable remit of what trust implies – how can you forgive such betrayals, let alone forget? I expect we must extend this to include those who may not have in any way directly wronged you, but have merely drifted apart from you due to any number of potential factors and you thus view this as an abandonment. How do you deal with the loss of such relationships, without bitterness corroding he once happy memories you must have shared with them? I use the word relationships deliberately, as ended friendships can hurt or scar as much as any broken bond with a romantic partner, so the scope is wide but can include any person or persons you had a significant bond with.

This discussion reminded me of the phrase, “Friends can be for a reason, a season or a lifetime”. I used to struggle with grasping this concept as I suppose everyone I counted as a true friend, I assumed would be a “lifetime” influence or fixture. This cannot be so – thinking like this is another manifestation of attachment that binds us to people in a way that often overlooks our cosmic connection with them. We befriend or meet someone, or they us, we get on so well, they help us in ways that cannot be defined, we then start to believe they are an indispensable part of our existence, we form an attachment to them that transforms them often into a ‘human crutch” for us. We sub-consciously believe that we cannot do without their support, our well-being and success is somehow incomplete if they do not share it. We often give this the label of love, but true love should not be a slave to possession or reciprocity.

Anyone who has had an extremely close friendship or other relationship must have at some point experienced the pain and despair of it ending, or at least fracturing, so I hope that what I describe is something they can relate to. However, if we think about friends who are no longer friends, either due to some disconnect or discord, or simply due to time and distance or circumstance, as still having been our one-time teachers, that might help. They enable us to remember the lessons we learnt but not be corrupted by pointless pain or anger at their departure from our life. We do not hate our teachers, good or bad as they may have been, for having “left” after having imparted whatever lesson or knowledge that was their forte. In fact, in many cases, we owe them, and afford them heart-felt thanks for making us what we are. It is after all, the lessons we learn and how we learn them, that shapes the course our lives often take.

Think of your friends, both past and present, or any relationships really, in the same manner. You were meant to meet some people at a certain point in your life – you will not accept this if you do not subscribe to the inescapable theory of “karma”, but I cannot otherwise account for why we meet some people and not others, from the multitudes that prowl our universe. Why do some lives intersect with ours at any given point and why are we only meant to walk a certain distance with such companions, before their own paths diverge and they accompany us, or us them, no longer? Why, because it was fated to be and yes, our free will may, and will, impact on a lot of our actual interactions with the other “passengers” on this “journey”, but it will not affect the overall outcome or destination of our quest or theirs.

Put simply, accept that not everyone who means a lot to you at any given point in your life, will be a constant throughout your existence, or theirs. After all, change is the only constant in life. Just take from them and your relationship with them, whatever good you can extract, let any “bad” serve as an experience that helps the future and overall, let them go. Focussing on, and remaining affected by, the pain, anger, loss, grief, frustration or any other negative feeling you associate with them long after your relationship has played its course, only shackles you in a meaningless prison of your own making. As Ann Landers described: “Hanging onto resentment is letting someone you despise live rent-free in your head”.

However, I extend this slightly further – do not despise, despise implies hatred and continued negativity, any trace of this will continue to keep you chained to the very person or memories you need to part with, so do not hate, resent or stay angry. Simply understand that even any pain caused to you is a part of the full range of experiences we must undergo to have really “lived”. The feeling of release from letting go extends its benefit by causing an immediate lightness in your own spirit and being. It then sets you free to like, love or live again, and hopefully all three. Simply love, live and learn, it is a fluid process that only ends with life, and maybe not even then. I read a wonderful quote recently, source unknown – “If someone you love hurts you cry a river, build a bridge, and get over it”, which really struck a chord with me, I hope it does with you too.

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What is the cause of most of the sadness, disappointment and even pain, that we tend to experience in varying degrees in our daily life? Of course the obvious answer to this is that it must depend on the hurt in question, its intensity, the circumstances surrounding it and most importantly, the person who felt it. But, to me, the real answer lies more connected to that last factor- the person experiencing the emotion, and their individual reaction to it, which in turn will be coloured by a multitude of factors. Little wonder then, that it seems almost impossible to identify a common theme that could in turn lead to some form of universal “solution” being opined or determined.

However, there is a common denominator, and it was identified centuries ago by various spiritual and scriptural teachings and writings. The most famous of these (well, it is for me, and I suspect for most Hindus at least), is enshrined in the teachings of the Bhagvat Gita, the holy text of the Hindus, which if one interprets correctly, arguably condenses all the teachings of “life” and maybe even beyond, in one wonderful tome. It’s narrator was none other than Krishna- the human reincarnation of Lord Vishnu, the sustainer of all creation and a third of the triumvirate which is responsible for creation (Brahma) and destruction (Shiva) as well.

What is this factor? Why, it is expectation – that somewhat elusive concept which defines our “wants”, desires and generally what we would expect from any given action, or situation. Expectation, which usually becomes the motivation for doing anything, or in fact not doing something, as the case may be. It is this same expectation, which then leads to attachment, a concept even more difficult to accurately encompass the full impact of. I shall not deal with attachment here, it deserves its own detailed exploration but let me turn again to expectation.

You may rightly ask, how it is possible to accuse expectation of being in any way a negative element, as without expectation, would we simply not lapse in to inaction or even inertia, having to reason to do anything? Well, the real answer to that is simply, no- action without desiring a specific outcome, action for the sake of action but not senseless or indifferent in any way, described so aptly in the Gita as “nishkaam karma” or selfless/ desire-less action, forms a key cornerstone of the Hindu “karmic” philosophy. It is differentiated from mindless and robotic performance as it is driven by inspiration and real motivation, but not driven by self gain or any form of selfishness, which in turn enables the performer to remain balanced at all times, in all situations, without becoming obsessed by the eventual results of their acts, as those are often not controllable in any event.

I appreciate the whole concept is difficult to grasp, and very prone to misunderstanding. If you think philosophy is more a farce than a science, this is probably not a post you want to read. For me, as with any difficult or complex subject, I find it easy to digest by breaking it down to the basics and simplifying it in any way I can. Hence, I work out that by having a very set and often inflexible expectation of what I want to (generally confused with, must) achieve through a certain action, I am getting so mired in the result I have decided has to follow from my action, I firstly lose all pleasure from performing the action, as the pressure of the outcome outweighs any intrinsic motivation I feel or should feel towards it. Then, if the outcome is not what I expect, and it often is not, as well, such is life, I am then immediately plunged in to an abyss of despair, which not only prevents motivation or desire to repeat that action which caused the disappointment again, but also consequently impacts on other actions that I need to perform as part of everyday living and to have a balanced life.

A very simplistic example- I love to write, it helps me on various levels and I sincerely hope, it affords some enjoyment to anyone who might read what I write. However, by having an expectation that a lot of people must read and enjoy it, can very easily cause an unhealthy focus on the result (i.e. reader statistics and enjoyment), soon overtaking any benefit or pleasure I get.  This can happen for instance, if I find that no-one is reading what I write as the topics are for example too disparate to appeal to any audience. If my reason for writing is motivated solely by wanting a huge number of people to read and expecting their (only) positive feedback, the non-materialisation of that result could have a genuinely damaging effect on the very act of writing. However, by approaching my writing as an act done for enjoyment, to express views I feel strongly about and in that process, hoping someone enjoys it or finds it in any way helpful or relaxing, removes any expectation on my part of a specific reaction, thus detaching me from the pointless exercise of trying to control an extrinsic factor, which will never be within my remit.

This approach is beautiful in its very simplicity but experience tells me that grasping its theory is a lot simpler than achieving its successful implementation. It is easy to think of performing an action totally selflessly but it is an inescapable truth that a lot of what we do is results driven and often the “default” programme within us kicks in to raise an expectation, without us even realising it has taken root, until the result we have built up in our (often) sub-conscious does not materialise, throwing us within the vicious cycle described above. How can you break out of the rigmarole?

Well, as with much of what I write- the solution does not magically present itself, and is mostly never one-dimensional or simple. Developing a deeper and fuller understanding of karmic and Yogic principles really helps me, actively training yourself and your mind to be conscious about not consistently reverting to set expectations from various things you do or want to do, and trying to look for the positives feelings generated by your actions, and not overtly focusing on the fruits of your labour, are all also other techniques. Finally, turn to the Gita (or any other text that may contain the same inspiring message), to “keep you on track” in your constant mission to achieve this difficult state. After all, as said in the Gita:

To action alone hast thou a right and never at all to its fruits; let not the fruits of action be thy motive; neither let there be in thee any attachment to inaction”.

I will separately address attachment as a topic in its own right at some point. I hope at least some of you enjoy this piece. It comes about due to an earlier discussion with some very dear friends on twitter and hopefully they will read this and know who they are! Thank you to them for motivating me to write this, I am not sure I have done this very challenging topic justice, but I have thoroughly enjoyed trying.

 

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