Thursday, March 19, 2015

"i'm doing" challenge update

On Sunday, we challenged ourselves and any other interested participants to the "I'm doing" challenge. That is, we invited everyone to transform one of your "I knows" to an "I'm doing".

As we're over mid-way through this week, I thought I'd share something that happened to me, even prior to hitting the publish button for Sunday's post. I was sitting in my room writing when one of my family member's called me down. Joining them in the foyer of our house I asked "What's up?" and was immediately greeted by the accusation "It's because of you we're going to be late!" Looking back in hindsight, it wasn't anything major; rather, it was just an expression of a dear one's frustration.

That said, it was unexpected. Immediately I got on the defensive and offered a legitimate explanation as to why I was not to blame. I was pretty worked up. There's little that bothers me more than being falsely accused of something.

As I walked back to my room, only then did I realize - I had already failed at my challenge! LOL.

I know better than to react when someone else is worked up and yet I did exactly that.

A simple example no doubt, but a powerful one. It left me with the realization that the practice of transforming knowing to doing requires one to be:

1) conscious at all times, and
2) willing to do the work, even if we don't want to.

In this case, I wasn't conscious and therefore didn't even realize the opportunity I had in front of me. In cases where I am conscious of the opportunity to "do" there is often a bigger hurdle and that's my ego. Often it prevents me from doing the right thing because the right thing doesn't provide me with immediate satisfaction.

How have you been finding the challenge? We'd love to hear your experiences and invite you to share in the comments below.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

"i know!"

Bg. 4.36: Even if you are considered to be the most sinful of all sinners, when you are situated in the boat of transcendental knowledge you will be able to cross over the ocean of miseries.

Spiritual life begins with hearing; hearing from someone who walks their talk. The Gita refers to such persons as self-realized souls. Their words have impact on our hearts because of the power that comes along with practicing what you speak. It's through this hearing that we cultivate knowledge, and as this verse states, this knowledge is the vehicle by which one can begin their journey of self-discovery.

For those who have started that cultivation of spiritual knowledge, and especially those who continue to cultivate it year upon year, you'll know that the journey that doesn't end there. In fact, arguably, that could be the easy part -

Practical execution of said knowledge is often the most challenging part.

As I child, I would often say "I know!" In reply to almost any piece of advice or guidance that came from my parents. Want to know something funny? I haven't changed much! Although I may not say those words out loud as often anymore, I sure do think them! Whether it be when I'm listening to a class, reading a book, discussing an initiative with colleagues, or having a conversation with a loved one, my mind often screams "I know, I know!" in relation to any good advice, ideas or guidance that may be shared.

One thing I'm realizing more and more is this: Ultimately, it doesn't matter whether "I know" if I don't DO anything about it. As the saying goes,

If you don't use it, you lose it.

That knowledge which sits within us waiting to be used, will be lost if we don't act upon it. All the information we have stored regarding our spiritual life, relationships, work/career and being a good human being is at risk of being lost. That's serious! All that time and effort spent will amount to nothing!

The act of waking up early to engage in spiritual practices or minimizing our tendency to procrastinate when we get a project assigned to us at work is the hallmark of doing the real work. Knowledge is just one piece of the journey. You can't escape the work part!

I invite you to join me in challenging yourself this week to transform one of your "I knows" to an "I'm doing". Feel free to share your observations and realizations by leaving a comment. Wishing you good "doing"!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

mistaken identity

Verse 4.35: Having obtained real knowledge from a self-realized soul, you will never fall again into such illusion, for by this knowledge you will see that all living beings are but part of the Supreme, or, in other words, that they are Mine.

Ever been mistaken for someone else? How did you feel? I've been mistaken for someone else a few times and its normally resulted in an awkward/amusing encounter once I've let the other person know that I'm not who they think they are. It's often followed by an apology and sometimes even an explanation - i.e. Wow! Your hair looks just like my friend's.

Although its personally never happened to me, I've heard rare cases of people insisting that they are right, saying things like, "You have to be such and such person! You're trying to fool me!" I can only imagine the poor recipient of such words. I'm sure if that type of questioning and conversation carried on for sometime, the recipient could get frustrated and even angry.

Regardless of the circumstance, the point is that in the majority of cases, we are quick to correct if we are mistaken for someone else. It highlights how strongly attached we are to our identity and ensuring that we recognized appropriately.

In fact, it's rare that we question and ever think that we might not be who we think we are.

The Gita flips this illusion on its head. Think you are the mind, ego, intelligence or body? The Gita resoundingly answers "No! You are experiencing a case of mistaken identity!" The Gita proclaims, "You are the soul! A spiritual spark that is part and parcel of the Divine."

This central teaching of the Gita has the capacity to revolutionize our lives and is exemplified by a beautiful analogy given by the great bhakti-yogi Prabhupada. Once a man visited his friend who had a bird which lived in a bird cage. The man was very proud of his bird cage and took great pains to ensure it looked shiny and new. The friend, when entering this man's house remarked upon the bird cage and praised the man saying that it looked beautiful. He then asked, "What's that smell? What happened to the bird?" The man looked inside and was shocked to see that the bird inside his beautiful cage had died.

In this analogy, the bird is the soul and the cage the body. Often, emphasis is placed on maintaining the body to ensure its health, beauty and abilities, which are, no doubt, important. However, the Gita explains, solely focusing on the body can result in ignoring the precious cargo it carries inside - the soul.

The purpose of physical yoga is to ensure that the body is strong enough to engage in activities which serve to nourish the soul. Activities such as hearing, chanting, meditating, serving etc.

So take heed of the reminder that the Gita gives us: there's a soul inside all of us that's crying out for nourishment. Please make sure to remember to feed it.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

earth day musings

Verse 4.34: Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized souls can impart knowledge unto you because they have seen the truth.

Today's verse is one of the most important verses in the Bhagavad-gita.

This morning, I learned that today is Earth Day which I later on realized I had confused with Earth Hour! Deciding I needed to learn more, I found out that Earth Day is an annual event that is dedicated to holding worldwide events to promote support for environmental protection.

It got me thinking. Why do we, as inhabitants of this earth, need to be reminded to care about and encouraged to honour it? Shouldn't every day be Earth Day? My musings led me to recognizing that there is a great tendency to take things for granted. Despite the fact that the earth gives us everything we need to survive, how conscious are we of that in our day to day lives?

It's a theme I've started to recognize in my own life:

Although difficult at times, it’s important to recognize the actions we perform now, no matter how small, ultimately serve to form the foundation for our future reality

In this instance, the "celebration" of Earth Day should actually serve as an impetus to find ways to effect environmental changes on a daily basis since we are being subjected to the effects of our past actions. Those in North America will be able to commiserate since we just finished experiencing the winter that never wanted to end!

This theme is also a cornerstone for living a life of gratitude, or a life of bhakti. In order to help us foresee how our daily actions will paint our future reality, the Gita recommends that one approach and learn from a qualified teacher - specifically one who not only knows the path but lives the path. One of the reasons why is to help us become consciously grateful.

To act for the long term can be challenging since ultimately it doesn’t require just a change of habits but a change in consciousness. In order to change one’s consciousness or attitude, it requires that one becomes conscious or aware of what’s going on. That’s where guidance from one who lives a life of being conscious of their own actions is key. It’s said that to develop any good qualities, one needs to associate with persons who themselves have it. Becoming conscious of one’s actions is definitely a positive quality!

The natural result of appreciating the guidance of such teachers is gratitude. And when that gratitude starts to grow, one can't help but become conscious of it all the time. The end result is one becomes consciously grateful. It is that conscious gratitude that propels one to not just feel gratitude but act upon it.

In many ways, the earth itself acts as our teacher. So take a minute to think about her, appreciate all that she offers and think of how you can do something for her not just today, but everyday.

Monday, April 21, 2014

an alternative to "just do it!"

Verse 4.33: O chastiser of the enemy, the sacrifice performed in knowledge is better than the mere sacrifice of material possessions. After all, O son of Pṛthā, all sacrifices of work culminate in transcendental knowledge.

I read a beautiful blog post by a teacher today. He was speaking about how important school is, but not for the reasons a student might think. He spoke of how every mundane activity such as going to class, studying for an exam or listening to a teacher's advice actually has a much deeper meaning. In particular, when it came to discussing the need to study, he emphasized how it isn't the mark you get that's the "win". It's about taking advantage of of an opportunity to practice a life skill - that of sacrificing time and effort to master something that may seem impossible without succumbing to distractions, or worse yet the feeling of "I can't do it".

How fitting that it ties in so well with today's subject where Krsna is telling Arjuna that sacrifice performed in knowledge is a much better way to act! Or in other words:

Doing something with understanding is much better than just doing it

This may seem ridiculously intuitive to some, but I'll be the first to admit, I struggle with this for a couple of reasons. For one thing, society doesn't really encourage us to question and look deeper than what meets the eye. Secondly, if one does attempt to look deeper, in some cases that understanding may not come right away and could require an investment of time and effort and who wants to do that! In a world where we want things immediately, it doesn't satisfy persons such as myself.

That said, in those instances where I've sought to understand why I'm doing something before doing it, I've noticed that I get a much more holistic picture of life. No longer does that simple action stand separated from everything else, but instead I gain insight into how my actions in one area of my life can be reflective of those in another.

When I started writing, I didn't just start writing. I sat down and clearly figured out what I wanted to accomplish which was pretty simple - I wanted to share my own love and appreciation for the Gita in a way that made it practical and relevant to everyday life. Now, whatever I write, I filter through that lens and if it doesn't meet that intention, I don't publish it. This theme of practical and relevant has now seeped into all other spheres of my life. Whoever I speak to, whether it's giving a workshop or offering advice to a friend, practical and relevant has become my motto.

All of us do things on a regular, if not daily basis. But have you ever really asked yourself why you do it? If you haven't, I extend the invitation to you to ask. You might be surprised by what you find if you understand first and then act with that understanding.

(If you'd like to read the article I alluded to in the beginning, please find it here: http://affectiveliving.wordpress.com/2014/03/08/what-students-really-need-to-hear/)

Thursday, March 13, 2014

custom made

Verse 4.32: All these different types of sacrifice are approved by the Vedas, and all of them are born of different types of work. Knowing them as such, you will become liberated.

Over the past several verses, the Gita has outlined the various ways in which an individual can perform sacrifice. Whether it be by selectively exposing oneself to certain sound vibrations, not giving into every whim and fancy of the mind's demands, or practicing breath control, these are just some of the ways one can practice sacrifice.

What is amazing about the different options presented is that fact that:

Different types of sacrifice, as discussed above, are mentioned in the Vedas to suit the different types of worker...these sacrifices are so arranged that one can work either with the body, with the mind or with the intelligence. (Bg. 4.32 purport)

I love this primarily because it means there's something for everyone. This aspect of personalizing and custom-tailoring any practice is so attractive because it takes into account the fact that every living entity, what to speak of every person, is unique and special.

That's what bhakti is all about - addressing the fundamentals that unite all of us in a very personal way. In this case, the various options outlined for performing sacrifice speaks to the fundamental truth that we are all individuals. What works for someone else may not necessarily work for us. This is something we've all had first hand experience of!

I first discovered this when I was going to school. The way in which the majority of school systems are set up are targeted to a certain type of individual - one that can copy down endless notes and excel when placed in exam environments. But what about those who learn visually? Or those who learn tactically? Or those who cannot handle exam situations? The list can go on and on. Thankfully educators are understanding this more and more and the hope is that in the future there will be programs to address this need.

Bhakti yoga has addressed and continues to address this need to craft a personalized program according to the nature and inclination of a person. It does so not only in the arena of sacrifice but in all the various components that serve to comprise the practice of being able to serve with love and gratitude.

It reminds me of a quote which I'll end with today. Something that captures this essence and always fills me with a sense of hope and inspiration:

"Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid." - Albert Einstein

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

sacrifice...is the key to happiness?

Verse 4.31: O best of the Kuru dynasty, without sacrifice one can never live happily on this planet or in this life: what then of the next?

It's been awhile since I've written my last post and I'd like to extend my apologies to everydaygita's regular readers. Although it wasn't intentional, this break from writing has filled with me more experiences of seeing the Gita in action. That said, you would think that I would be bubbling over with words and that the greatest challenge I would be facing right now is to stop myself from writing a 10 page essay!

Instead, I'm finding it hard to shake off the cobwebs that form whenever I stop writing and quite confronting to stare at the blinking courser which seems to be taunting me to come up with the right words.

At this moment, I can totally relate with the subject of sacrifice!

Writing on the Gita always brings me a deep sense of satisfaction and happiness. As opposed to just reading some words, appreciating them for a few minutes and then forgetting about them, writing compels me to personalize and internalize the Gita's teachings. In short, it forces me to use my intelligence!

All of us discover new connections and experience new realizations frequently. But if you're anything like me, it's easy to forget them if they are not written down immediately. The process of capturing those feelings and emotions in an articulate manner leaves a lasting effect.

But to get there requires sacrifice. For me, it's the sacrifice of reading the Gita, introspecting on the meaning, praying for realizations, and setting aside time to journal them here.

It's a pretty simple yet apt analogy for illustrating how sacrifice is required to achieve happiness. For those who long for eternal happiness, the same formula holds true - it too requires sacrifice, and as the bhakti yoga texts explain, requires that we understand a couple of things:

1. The happiness that we experience when we are live in the mind-set of "I am this body" is temporary. There's nothing wrong with it, it's just not ever-lasting.

2. To experience ever-lasting happiness, we have to realize that we are the soul and not this body. That comes by associating with those persons who have already realized this (i.e. advanced bhakti yogis) and engaging in the practice of mantra meditation which helps us to re-connect with our souls.

3. Eternal happiness requires that we sacrifice temporary happiness. But just like writing, the process is not painful. It may a bit uncomfortable when we begin, but as it becomes more consistent, the process itself is blissful.

So whether you are looking for happiness in certain aspects of your life or are looking for the ultimate, everlasting kind, just remember one thing. The process of sacrificing may seem uncomfortable or even painful at first, but give it some time. You may be surprised to realize that sacrifice itself can be blissful.