Most of us may presently be looking forward to making new beginnings, as this is the time when new goals are set and resolutions framed to eat healthier, exercise daily, change dysfunctional habits, augment assets, improve relationships and take good care of ourselves. Soon as decisions are made, the endeavour is to translate it into action. Some meet with success and others fail. A good number of those who fail keep trying, with a few of them becoming disillusioned in the process. It is widely believed that high achievers are a happy lot, yet the truth often is that most of them struggle with emptiness and meaninglessness, with the realization that despite setting and accomplishing many goals, something big is missing from their life. It is probably because their most coveted goals lack a deeper vision, based on incomplete self-knowledge and social conditioning. The overwhelming feeling may be that nothing has changed and, perhaps, nothing will change. A deeper reflection leads one to the comprehension that life is too big and the goals are too small to yield any significant transformation in one’s life as well as the lives of those around.
If there is an alternative, it may perhaps be for one to let go of a narrow outlook to envision the bigger landscape. Sufi mystic Rumi believed that there is an undiscovered deeper knowledge within us holding the key to bliss: “There are two kinds of intelligence: one acquired, as a child in school memorizes facts and concepts…..collecting information from the traditional sciences as well as new sciences…. There is another kind of tablet, one already completed and preserved inside you. This other intelligence does not turn yellow or stagnate. It’s fluid, and it doesn’t move from outside to inside through conduits of plumbing-learning. This second knowing is a fountainhead from within you, moving out”.
Anyone aspiring to move forward may, therefore, stop chasing particular and transitory goals, substituting it with comprehensive vision capable of refining and guiding life. The strongest, highest, perfect and most evolved version of oneself may be visualized in combination with an ideal life to open up a pathway to changes to be wrought in the present. As such awareness becomes keener, the more resolute will be the urge to sculpt the body, heart and mind to move closer to the ideal. In other words, one calls upon the highest ideal within, to shape oneself to perfection and transform into a new being through patience, perseverance and practice. Goals set around grand visions lend it the right direction and movement.
The structural connect to goals is through discipline. A discipline is a path for acquiring certain skills or learning. As with any discipline, from playing the violin to acoustics engineering, some people have an innate gift; but anyone can develop proficiency through practice. To practice a discipline is to be a lifelong learner. You never ‘arrive’; you spend your life mastering disciplines. You can never say you are enlightened. The more you learn, the more acutely you become aware of your ignorance and deficiencies. Thus a corporation cannot be excellent in the sense of having arrived at a permanent excellence; it is always in the state of practicing the disciplines of achieving higher product qualities, of creating better values for the customer or, conversely, sliding down the slope towards mediocrity.
Humans think in terms of anthropocentrism, seeing humans at the centre of activities. From the systems perspective, the human actor is part of the feedback process, not standing apart from it. This provides a profound shift in awareness. It allows us to see how we are continually influenced by and influencing our reality. Such shift in awareness is ardently advocated by ecologists in their exhortations that we see ourselves as part of nature, as recognized by many of the world’s great philosophical systems. For example, the Bhagavad Gita’s chastisement: “All actions are wrought by the qualities of nature only. The self, deluded by egoism, thinketh: ‘I am the doer”
The proposed shift in awareness progresses one to the realization that having more or doing more is not always better, even though the mind keeps chattering that when the whole world is chasing success, we might turn loser by being content with having less or doing less. According to Taoist sage Chuang Tzu, “Be all that heaven gave you, but act as though you have received nothing. Be empty, that is all”. He admonishes us to be full and empty at the same time by aligning ourselves with the universal life force. The way of the Tao does not demand undoing development, retiring from life and living as a hermit in the mountains. The only prescription is to de-clutter and simplify life, releasing mental conditioning that clouds thinking, becoming aware of the imperative to consume only in accordance with need, work only as much as one comfortably can and be content with whatever is ordained by the universe. The ensuing freedom to be is healing, unifying and enlightening, leading to a oneness with the universal life force. The vital life energy then flows smoothly within, conveying perfect physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.
In this connection, it is interesting to examine the theory of karma, meaning ‘action’, the moral law of cause and effect governing the future. The sum of a person’s actions in the present and previous states of existence, viewed as deciding their fate in future existences. Karma is an energy created by willful action, through thoughts, words and deeds. The loop of karma binds us all and we remain entangled in it. How to stay away from getting trapped in the loop? Can a person circumvent the karmic loop by not doing anything at all? The reality is that avoidance or non-involvement is a huge multiplier of karma. Performing good or bad deeds has less to do with acquisition of karma than the confused intentions and desires preceding within the person that triggers everything that follows. It is as if one is coated by a glue that attracts the karmic dust. Over a period of time, the cumulative outcome is a mountain of karma that is bound to leave the person perplexed as to how to eliminate it. The solution is to remove the adhesive that binds, for the karmic mountain to crumble. It is attained, not through avoidance of action, but through conscious involvement; human desire can be limited or boundless. One sees the end of karmic path by rising above likes and dislikes, greed and possessiveness. If one’s desires, through dispassionate involvement and unwavering focus, are expansive and all-embracing, the bondage of karma withers away. The Akashi mudra practice in the yogic tradition entails focusing on nothing at all; it is simply an unwavering focus on empty space. The premise is that liberation does not depend on the object of your focus, but the focus itself. Since life itself is a process without an established purpose, it is only in absolute involvement in the process that its inherent value may unravel itself. Hence process is all, and the goal just a consequence.
On a personal note, the past year has been replete with travails as I was wrecked for several months together by health issues. It initially manifested as sleeplessness in the night and, if that was not bad enough, stretched to gnawing pain in the calf muscles on both legs. Exacerbating the situation further, there was burning sensation while urinating. I went around consulting doctors as an in and out patient in as many as four hospitals, shunting from a sleep clinic, to neurologist, urologist, back to neurologist and psychiatrist across a period four to five months. All kinds of tests and several rounds of medication were not leading to any relief till at last a neurologist, after doing an NCS and blood test, correctly diagnosed the problem as acute deficiency of sodium and Vitamin D. Following appropriate medication, I am more or less okay now. The only remaining concern is my dependence on sleeping pills to get the much needed sleep during night. I have to come out of this protocol with gradual reduction in dosage spread over, hopefully, another few months. In the last year, therefore, I have keenly realized the value of good health and, through several weeks of deprivation, how relaxing an experience and precious a blessing is a good night’s sleep. I wonder whether William Wordsworth experienced something similar when he wrote: “A flock of sheep that / leisurely pass by, / One after one; the sound / of rain, and bees / Murmuring; the fall of rivers, winds and seas, / Smooth fields, white sheets of water, and pure sky; / I have thought of all by turns. / and yet to lie Sleepless! / and soon the small birds’ melodies / Must hear, first uttered from my orchard trees; / And the first cuckoo’s melancholy cry. / Even thus last night, and two nights more, I lay, / And could not win thee, / Sleep! by any stealth: / So do not let me wear tonight away:/ Without Thee what is all the morning’s wealth?/ Come, blessed barrier between day and day, / Dear mother of fresh thoughts and joyous health”. Clearly, the worst thing in the world is to try to sleep and not succeeding at it, lying awake all night while rest of the world slumbers in silence, wailing with Shakespeare, “O sleep, O gentle sleep, / Nature’s soft nurse, / how have I frighted thee, / That thou no more wilt / weigh my eyelids down / And steep my sense in forgetfulness?”.
In the ever expanding space-time continuum, how significant can yet another year be, particularly one in the Gregorian calendar whose beginning is as arbitrary as that of any of the numerous other calendars that mark time in different cultures around the world? The whirligig of time moves on, throwing up positives and negatives. The past year was catastrophic in a larger perspective as well since it witnessed the worst deluge in my home state of Kerala in nearly a hundred years. Hundreds of people lost lives, while thousands rendered homeless are still limping back to normality. The people united in the face of calamity and mounted rescue efforts and support for the needy, transcending barriers of religion and social status. A few months after the event and moving on to 2019, the country in particular and the world in general appear to be riven by differences of religion and hyper nationalism bordering on xenophobia. A truly religious mind is a deeply scientific mind that is constantly inquiring and discovering, not ensnared by established theories, formulae, dogmas or beliefs. It is a mind that is extraordinarily passionate in quest of truth; it is free, and being free it is incapable of accumulating knowledge and beliefs. It refuses to accumulate knowledge because knowledge belongs to the past and the past is a calcification of truth and often is no longer the truth. A calcified truth becomes a belief and therefore false. Truth can only reside in the living present, to appreciate which one needs to cultivate a mind that is forever young and learning. While there may not be any meaning to life, life can be made meaningful by the intention to be most useful or beneficial to oneself and others, by seeking what is real and true right now. Forgetting the pains of the past year, let us look ahead optimistically at 2019, making it another millennial milestone in our lives. Happy New Year…