Saturday, August 23, 2008

have joy banish pain

I recently met a wonderful person who was suffering from immense physical pain. He had a few toes amputated due to progressive diabetes. He was also suffering from heart trouble and was in pretty bleak spirit. His family was with him, and they too were going through a trying time due to his illness.

I went to meet him at the hospital and found him extremely warm and approachable and at the same time a bit cynical of the purpose of my visit. I had never met him before, he is the father of a friend and I thought it would be nice of me to visit him and try and share some “Happiness” with him.

During the course of the conversation, I found out that he had been carrying a lot of emotional pain. He had unfinished family business and never forgave himself and one of his relatives for having cheated him out of his proper share of land and property. He was carrying a lot of bitterness and anger towards this particular relative. He blamed himself for having let his children down by not having ensured a secure future for them. He felt betrayed and cheated and wanted revenge.

Interestingly, according to Louise Hay- (author, motivational speaker, and healer) Diabetes is emotionally related to –longing for what might have been, a deep sorrow related to need for control leading to bitterness and anger. Heart ailments relate to issues with love and security.

When I heard about his ailments and I heard about his emotional issues I could immediately relate the two. Sure enough, his anger, his bitterness and his need to control and take revenge had to manifest physically and it surely did.

According to Paul Eckmen- researcher of emotions, anger is experienced when we feel someone is interfering with what we want. We experience an innate need to control the situation, we feel like attacking the source of our interference and sometimes we are successful in our attack and at others we are not. When we are not successful with the attack and are unable to achieve the desired result we tend to retain our anger and the mere mention of the object of our anger tends to lead to an increase in heart rate and an increase in the blood flow in our extremities, taking it away from the vital organs. This is due to the fight or flight response. Unmitigated anger over a long period will most definitely lead to physical ailments.

Uncle, was paying a huge price for carrying this anger. He was suffering both emotionally and physically. Only if he could put it aside, he would really start to heal. Often our anger and pain, becomes so much a part of our lives that we forget to live without it. Fortunately anger is a learned emotion; therefore it surely can be unlearned. When holding on to anger starts to threaten one’s own survival, it surely must be let go.

I know from experience the physical effects of guilt and anger. I was extremely angry and at the same time guilty of a certain episode in my life. At that time I used to suffer excruciating headaches and could hardly sleep. I looked older than my age and was constantly tired. I almost believed myself to be a manic depressive and was constantly looking out for signs that made me believe that I was suffering from Bi polar disorder. I just could not put the pain or the guilt aside. Eventually however, I did manage to overcome the emotional issues and before I knew it, I was sleeping like a baby and headaches were history. I took the whole drawer full of sleeping aids and headache pills (which I had collected like candy) and threw it in the bin. Of course it did not happen overnight; it was a slow process of acknowledging and accepting the situation. The giving up of the need to control the outcome by indulging in the right practices-namely yoga, meditation, reading spiritual literature and listening to uplifting music. I did everything I needed to do to get me out of this losing proposition. Wonderful friends who gave the right guidance were a god send. It took almost two years to give up the pills completely, but it happened and I can’t even remember what headaches and insomnia feels like. ( Am not complaining!!!!!!!!)

Is any pain worth holding on to the anger, bitterness and unforgiveness? Very often the object of our anger has moved on and is leading a happy fulfilling life, whereas we choose to suffer and wallow in self pity and self flagellation. Our body suffers and starts to retaliate, our friendships and our families suffer. Our work suffers and we are left with nothing but our anger and our hatred towards the world at large. Nothing seems to please us anymore. We forget joy and we forget happiness. Life becomes a burden and we can’t wait for it all to end.

Again, is it really worth it? We all have a purpose and a destiny and I sincerely doubt if it entails carrying pain, anger and bitterness. I recently watched the movie – Bucket List starring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson. In one of the scenes Morgan Freeman tells Jack Nicholson that it is an old Egyptian belief that when a person dies and his soul reaches the gates of heaven, the Gods ask two questions that determine if the soul will enter heaven or not. The two questions are “have you had joy in your life? Has your life brought joy to someone’s life?” It is as simple as that.

Have joy and bring joy. An angry, bitter person will never be able to enjoy life and his life will most certainly not bring joy. Happiness and joy are contagious as are pain and misery? What would you rather choose?

I don’t really know much about heaven and hell but why make our life on earth hell when we have the capability right within ourselves to make it into heaven. Why not choose happiness and attain heaven on earth?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The noise of silence

How often have we heard people say that “Silence is golden”. In fact the Tremeloes even dedicated a song to silence.….bet you are humming it right now.
Didn’t realize how noisy and scary silence can be. All our lives we are surrounded by so much external noise that the internal noise gets buried somewhere in our subconscious. The moment the external subsides, the internal starts rearing its ugly head.

I decided to brave my way into silence for the second time. I had attempted to do this a couple of years ago ( Attended Vipassna – a ten day course in silence and meditation) and despite everyone challenging me that I could not do it , I had somehow managed to survive the 10 days with minimal talk and minimal interaction with the outside world. I had however cheated on few occasions as I could not understand the logic behind the exercise.
Since then however, something in my chemical makeup must have changed as I now willingly look for opportunities that take me away into silence and allow me to commune with my inner self.

Having said that; it still is extremely noisy and scary to be in one’s own company.
I was recently in an ashram in India where on offer were Panchakarma treatments. I had heard a lot about the Ayurvedic Panchakarma treatments, so I decided to give it a try. Panchakarma literally translates into “five actions” actions that work towards cleansing and rejuvenating the body, mind and consciousness.
It is well known that our mind plays an extremely important role in influencing the health of our body. By controlling our mind we can control our body. Many life threatening diseases have been overcome by way of positive thinking, repetition of affirmations and visualization techniques.
Panchakarma works in the opposite way. It works on the body and thereby brings about desired results in the mind and eventually helps to raise ones consciousness. The therapies include full body and head massages with oil and herbs, oil baths, pouring of Ghee ( pure rarified butter) into your eyes, nose and ears and other orifices if one is brave enough. Back massage, shoulder treatments, powder massages and synchronized massages by two therapists.

It all sounded extremely exotic and relaxing.

My friend and I quickly signed up for a 10 day program. This was however no 5 star luxury, the accommodation and the food was as basic as it could be. One saving grace was hot water and toilet paper! We had beetles and spiders for company and the variety of beetles was pretty impressive!
I was mentally prepared so took it all in my stride. I was paying – a mere 500 USD for my 10 day stay which included all meals and treatments. The same in a fancy spa would have cost me 4000 USD. I had no right to complain.

The first day was a beautiful full body massage followed by steam. I felt great and started looking forward to the rest of my days.

The second day , I was made to lie on my stomach and a moat of dough was made all over my back. Warm oil was then poured on to my back and I was asked to stay still, both in mind and body. The body somehow managed to stay still but the mind started racing at the speed of 180 mph per sec (The take off speed of a jet). My mind went everywhere and anywhere. I could not bring myself to relax. I thought of all the silly things, my pains, my joys, my past and my future. In 45 minutes I had relived my life a lifetime over.

Next day was the Shirodhara treatment, where warm oil is poured constantly for 45 min on your forehead in soft sweeping motion. Again I was to lie still and let my mind and body rest. I went into panic mode at the thought of having to keep up with the 180 mph speed of my thought waves. Yet again it came to pass, but by this time I was completely exhausted and spent trying to muffle the noise of my internal clutter.

Two more agonizing days of wonderful therapies and crazy thoughts, and by the fifth day I had come to terms with the noise of silence and was ready to face it. It must have shown on my face, because as soon as I walked in to the therapy room, the therapist commented on how calm and peaceful I looked.
The therapies were finally producing results. My body and my mind were getting rid of all the toxins. The physical had finally transformed into the mental. By way of externally treating my body, my mind had gotten treated as well. It was not easy though. At times it felt as if my head would explode with all the thoughts that kept coming to the surface. I had extremely nasty headaches and my nose would not stop running, but somehow I was convinced that it was just an outlet for all the clutter and toxins to leave my body. I became a masochist. I started looking forward to pain and misery.

My friend had a similar experience and during our evening walks we used to compare notes. All was wonderful except the internal noise. Why were our thoughts running at this insane speed? Why was our whole life being packed into 45 minutes a day? All our fears and aspirations were coming to the surface and we had to finally deal with it.

Often we put things away in a little part somewhere in our minds, hoping that the unpleasant would not come to the surface and the pleasant can be visited on demand. Life unfortunately does not work that way. Both the pleasant and the unpleasant are a part of life and both play an equal and important role. We never value the pleasant if we have never experienced the unpleasant. It is the combination of both that gives life its meaning.

In my silence and solitude, I experienced the emotional roller coaster of thoughts buried under layers of external debris. All our lives we try and muffle the internal noise by indulging in external activities. We drown ourselves in work, in our children, in parties, in alcohol, in books, in TV anything that will keep us occupied and keep us away from our own internal chatter. The fear of coming face to face with one’s own self is far greater than any fear from the outside.

I met a 26 year old lady from Slovenia who was also visiting the ashram; she would sit quietly outside the temple and not speak with anyone. One day out of the blue, she came and started talking with me and told me that she was here trying to run away from herself. She was mortally afraid of her thoughts and was trying to drown the internal noise in the ringing of bells and the chanting of mantras in the temple. She said she had experienced glimpses of happiness and peace, but most of the time she had to face the demons of her mind which were convincing her of her fallibility and constantly reminding her of her past indiscretions. There was nowhere she could run to escape this noise. A friend recommended “silence therapy” and that is why she was here. She seemed extremely distraught and unable to cope. The noise persisted and got worse, but as the saying goes “It is always darkest before dawn”. I guess she was going through a catharsis and she had to dig really deep.

Talking to her made me aware of my own fight with my emotional baggage and sure enough I decided to start putting it away. Often it is easier said than done, but habits are formed bit by bit, so they can only be broken bit by bit.

I had read somewhere that “when painful thoughts visit , one should immediately try to supplant those with some neutral or nonsensical thought such as a pink elephant or red rose or repetition of a word like dig, dig, dig…anything that will take away the attention from the painful thought . Of course it would be better to think of something positive, but at times it is easier to think of nonsense than to think of something positive. The technique is called “brain switching”. Concentrating on a neutral or nonsensical thought will jam the sad thought and eventually get one out of the depressed state. Our brain has limited capacity in this regard. It can only think one thought at a time. Mind jumps from thought to thought, but at any one time it can only think one thought. So when faced with the noise of painful thoughts, immediately switch to nonsensical thoughts.”
I had forgotten about this technique, but as I was revisiting my silence and dreading the onslaught of 180mph thoughts, it suddenly came back to me. I immediately put it to test. Lying with my face down and body still, enjoying the warm oil being poured on my back I started to recite a mantra. Before I knew it, my mind had gone into silence and I was at peace. I was not afraid of the internal dialogue any more. I had found a way of dealing with it.

It’s true, what we resist, persists. I was trying so hard not to think of the painful memories that, that is all I kept thinking about. The moment I accepted those memories and decided to switch my focus on the mantra, the thoughts slowly but surely started to dissipate. By the 5th day, I was completely at peace and not afraid of the internal chatter any more.

Our 10 day sojourn eventually got shortened into 8 days as by the 7th day both my friend and I had enough of the bugs and the beetles and had probably had enough decluttering that we were ready to go back to our respective lifestyles full of clutter and chaos ….. All the stuff that makes life worth living!
We decided that, it was enough for the first time and that next time around we would brave the internal chatter, but indulge in a real spa and have some gorgeous hunks for company instead of the bugs and the spiders.