My mother is my go-to person. Through her gentle, nurturing, and insightful ways, she has the remedy for everything from stubbed toes (yes, I get these even now) to existential crises. I am often frequented by the latter, and on most occasions she finds the right thing to say that soothes and eases my soul. A list with things I can swear by cannot have “my mother” in it, for obvious reasons, but I thought I should put it out there, as an example of things that you swear by in your life. They are things that you believe are infallible, sure-fire, fail-proof ways of improving a situation or eliminating a problem. They will be different for different people because these are things that one collects in their arsenal over time. They are things or methods that they can rely upon, from experience. Each one of us has our own list. Here’s mine.
Permission to Sleep
I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I’m awake, you know?Ernest Hemingway
It feels like my mind is always running a marathon. I have vivid, lucid, and all other kinds of dreams. So, on most days I wake up with a tired body and an even more fatigued mind. After a few days of this torture, I have to give myself permission to sleep, and when I do, I feel like a new person. The world looks better after a night of optimum sleep. On days when I have had a 7-8 hour lie in, I feel calmer, and more importantly, I feel more productive. Nay, I feel indomitable.
A shut eye, forty winks, or power nap, whatever name you give it; it is the best way to rejuvenate. Winston Churchill famously used to take a 2 hour nap every day at 5pm. When things get too complicated and difficult for me to handle, I take a nap. It sounds counterintuitive I know, but time and again, it has proved effective to me. When my friends would be busy burning the midnight oil before exams, I would take a nap. To this day, when I am plagued by profound questions, answers to which I cannot find; or when the world bogs me down and I need to ‘reset’ my brain before it explodes; I take a nap. I have recently discovered that there is such a thing as a coffee nap. I have always wondered how it is that I doze off after I drink a cup of Joe. It seems that the adenosine in black coffee makes you sleepy and if you drink a cup right before the caffeine kicks in, then you are supposed to sharpen your brain to function better. Hallelujah!
Thoughts on Walking
All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.Friedrich Nietzsche
Great thoughts surely came to great people during their walks, like William Wordsworth, Virginia Woolf, Friedrich Nietzche, and Charles Dickens, to name a few. I can’t say about great thoughts but walking surely works for me! We all know the benefits of walking. They are multitudinous. Walking improves physical health, mental health, and also social health if you are walking with a friend or walking in a community park. I have always been a solitary walker in cities. Since I was a teenager and was allowed to venture out on my own, with albeit a strict deadline; I have loved walking. Walking is the best way to know a city. I have extensively walked the streets of my hometown and other cities where I have subsequently lived. I find walking in cities cathartic because it renders you an anonymity. Much akin to purposeless walking, the same can’t be said about walking amidst nature. Forest walks or forest bathing (shinrin-yoku in Japanese) are syncretic in that they make you feel that you are part of this universe. It gives you that much needed pause to listen, observe, or simply tune out. Jumbled up thoughts begin to disentangle. The mental fog clears out in rhythm with your feet on the ground.
A lone walker is both present and detached, more than an audience but less than a participant. Walking assuages or legitimizes this alienation.Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A history of Walking.
Walking is something I swear by because it has helped me in numerous occasions to calm down when anger was simmering inside, threatening to boil over. I have walked away from several situations to calm my frazzled nerves. Walking has also helped me to connect with my feelings better. Sometimes in the confusion of feeling and reacting and understanding and analysing, my mind tends to shut down and I am unable to recognize what I am truly feeling inside. All I feel is anger. I know then that it is time to take a walk.
If every day you practice walking and sitting meditation and generate the energy of mindfulness and concentration and peace, you are a cell in the body of the new Buddha. This is not a dream but is possible today and tomorrow.Thich Nhat Hanh
Our minds wander off all the time. We have too many thoughts bubbling under and they come to the surface when we stay still. It can be relatively easy to create stillness in (most) bodies but the mind never stays still. It has the tendency to move around, and jump from one idea, thought, emotion, to the next. Meditation is a method to tell our minds that there is value in stillness. Focusing on the breathing helps us ease the mind to return to the moment from time to time. Gentleness is the key. So, for instance, I am focusing on my breathing and I am letting my emotions come forth and then suddenly this thought, from nowhere comes to me. I suddenly remember the moment when I spoke to my father the day before. My mind is transported to that moment when I had heard his voice and the conversation we’d had. It was not something important, but somehow my mind conjures up this image. What should I do? I observe the moment and then tell my mind to return to the present. I breathe and gently bring it back. Like a child being asked to return home from play, the mind resists. With patience and perseverance, the mind learns to obey.
I said to my soul, be still and wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love, for love would be love of the wrong thing […] Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought: So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.T.S. Eliot.
On days when I cannot find the time to pause and reflect by sitting down, I practice a walking meditation technique that Thich Nhat Hanh talks about. It is a simple way to practice mindfulness. How do you do that? The mind needs an anchor. Much like a kite that soars in the sky needs a string attached to the earth somewhere, which guides it back when it wanders out of sight; the mind too, needs a chord to remain grounded. You could use a tiny pebble that you put in your pocket and every time you feel your mind wandering off, you hold the pebble in your palm as a gentle reminder to return. I use modern technology – a phone app called Insight Timer, in which you can select the kind of reminder sound you would want. I set the timer to the gentle sound of a bell every few minutes and I walk with the phone in my pocket. As I walk, my mind walks, runs, or flies. I let all the thoughts come and go and every time the bell sounds, I return to the moment. I find the whole exercise exhilarating and by the end of my walk, I feel refreshed.
The Magic of Suryanamaskar or Sun Salutations
Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self.The Bhagavat Gita
My back woes began one day out of the blue! The doctor diagnosed it as mechanical back pain after prescribing several weeks of bed rest. After going through a few rounds of physiotherapy, I decided to sit up and then progressively stand up one day. It hurt immensely but I continued to push my body. I figured that if it was only mechanical back pain, then the only way to get better was to move my body. Then one fine day, I decided to go for a walk. As I walked, I realised that my back was easing up and I walked 3 kilometres and back! A friend recommended yoga and I started with my very first Sun Salutation or Suryanamaskar. That was 2010 and even today, if my back starts acting up, I stretch my tired back by doing a few rounds of Suryanamaskar. Ideally, you are supposed to do it early in the morning when the sun rises because, as the name suggests, it is paying homage to the Sun by drawing energy from it. But Life is not ideal, and our lives are always tailor-made to meet our needs. I don’t end up doing sun salutations early every morning but whenever I can or rather, whenever my body screams for it. No matter where I am, I can always find a quiet corner. It works like magic!
Magic in the mundane
There are others things that have, over the years, made it to the list of things I swear by, like a shower, a book, a cup of tea, a tall glass of cool water, and hugs. But these are things external to me. Although rare but mishaps do happen. There have been times when I have found myself without reading material or my Darjeeling tea. A cool glass of water, you would think, is ubiquitous but it actually isn’t. Water quenches your thirst but if you are looking for the soul-soothing kind, you need the temperature to be just right—not too cold and not too warm. That, my dear friend, is a rare gem! I may or may not have access to water to take a long, relaxing, lingering shower. You may think that hugs are also something that one should get quite readily if you are living among family and friends. I beg to differ. Hugs are special. You can hug openly and without reserve, but the hugs that warm your heart are those where there is complete surrender. Those hugs, I daresay, one may find with only a handful of people in your lifetime, if you are lucky. So, in essence, the list I have shared here are the things I swear by when I find myself with only me and I for company.