Sreenath Sreenivasan

Thriving Mindfully

Author: Sreenath Sreenivasan (page 1 of 21)

A Frozen Conscience

A tree is felled

The Earth shakes,

The man with the axe, Unmoved

On the subtle sense of smell

The sense of smell.
Suffused silently in the ebb and flow of breath, such is its subtlety that we seldom take note of its presence. But as easy it is for us to imagine a person who can’t see, hear or speak, can we imagine a person who can’t smell? It almost feels as if such a person couldn’t be alive, for the loss of the sense of smell feels akin to loss of the breath itself.

The olfactory sense is perhaps one of the most visceral of all, for unlike the sense of sight that is related to the eye, or the sense of hearing associated with the ear, or the sense of touch felt by the skin, it doesn’t seem as easy to associate an organ with the sense of smell. While we do breathe in from the nose, there’s something mysterious about how we make sense of smell, a working far more complex that merely sniffing through our nostrils.

There is an evocative potential in every scent. Each lingering scent that we’ve experienced in our life is meticulously bookmarked in the brain as a memory. And what makes the memory so special is that the scent that brings it forth cannot be reproduced at will.
You can listen to an old song that you wish to hear, or look at a photograph you had clicked years ago, as you can still pull those out at will from a digital repository.
But how do you pull out the aroma that used to emanate from the kitchen at your grandmother’s place when you visited her at age 6?
Having said that, should you inadvertently find someone crushing coriander seeds in a mortar and pestle in the neighborhood, it could teleport you to your grandmother’s kitchen in an instant.
Such is the evocative energy !

While we humans do not have as keen a sense of smell as animals, it has been instrumental in our survival and perpetuation through the ages.
Odour plays a significant role in mating. Attraction has a lot to do with finding a partner with an agreeable and enchanting scent.

But there’s a role that an unpleasant odour play as well. Think of the miracle of nature, that any food that is unappetizing or toxic to our biology invariably emits an unpleasant odour, steering us clear from the idea of consuming it.

A person’s natural odour, until not too long ago, was an identity in itself. However, once humankind figured out the science of aromatics, the deep personality in the natural scent of a human has wafted away, and a dab, a drop, a drizzle, of a synthetic concoction has effaced our natural olfactory fingerprint.

Modernity has only made us feel insecure about our own musk. And in a world where cultural aspirations tend to funnel towards a white-collar office job, breaking into a sweat while at work has sadly, lost its charm.
Sweating is the body’s natural mechanism to cool-off, flush out toxins and bring a soothing relief from stressful physical work.
A moist layer of skin, a dripping brow, the sublime sweetness of a saline secretion, were all tangible testimonies to the effort we put into our work.
At some level, after a hard day at work, as the evening breeze brushed against a peasant’s skin, along with the heat it took away from the body, the sweat also took away all pent up stress.

In our modern office environment, where we are conditioned to the extent that even the air we breathe is but conditioned, and as we attribute more respect to cerebral work, the association of sweat with hard work has been reduced to a mere metaphor.
Now, as we’ve begun to associate sweat with drudgery, with no way to dissipate stress through our pores, have we not designed a drudgery for ourselves in our sterile work environment?
Should the proliferation of stress management workshops ever come as a surprise?

Sweat and body odour are seen (through the lens of modernity) as problems, which can be remedied if one is willing to tow the line of advertizing and spend money.
‘The scent of desire’, ‘The musk of Masculinity’ and if you’re willing to believe, the advertizers, they’ve even concocted ‘The scent of success’!
Granted some of us need respite from the pungent chemistry of certain pairs of underarms, but how does the noxious, repulsive blend of body odour and a synthetic fragrance help us in such a situation?
Perhaps a little hygiene and moderation in what we put into our bodies would help us all?

The culture of seeking synthetic scents isn’t merely the case of addressing the symptom and not the cause. It is emblematic a morbid mentality of thinking that our natural body odour is a problem in itself.
Can one’s natural identity become a problem? Good luck feeling secure if you’re riding on that train!

Natural scents are ethereal. But so are the subliminal traps of synthetic aroma and crafty advertising, that aren’t the easiest to circumvent in our current social culture.

But once purged from the platter of aromatics, you would realise that it’s far more romantic to get a whiff of your beloved’s pheromones, secreted solely to enchant you, than any synthetic scent on the shelf. That a baby deserves to smell like its subtle self and is better off without the generic scent of carcinogenic talcum powder. The freshness of a pair of clothes dried naturally in the sunlight far surpasses what a fragrant fabric conditioner can do. And your natural musk, in whatever health at the moment, is in fact, all yours.

In closing, I would like to share an interesting sensory discovery. The other day, I walked into a shop in the old city that sells attar, a traditional, steam-distilled perfume. One of the latest fragrances on the shelf was called ‘the smell of the earth’.

While it smelt surprisingly similar to the smell of the earth, the lingering aroma also left me wondering.
How far have we drifted away from the earth, to need to seek it’s aroma so desperately, albeit, in a packaged synthetic concoction?

We have progressed to an extent to have deciphered the science of smell.
But it’s one thing to smell like the earth,
And another to smell of it.

On choosing your pleasures wisely

Nature has – as a provision for an evolutionary fillip- designed us to be a pleasure seeking species. It is our basic instinct to maximize pleasure and alleviate pain. From the joy in the warmth of an embrace, to the alluring magnetism of a baby’s smile, to the existentially satisfying act of procreation, nature has designed our experience of pleasure to meet its longing for itself, through our perennial pursuit for posterity.

Up until a few decades ago, our pleasures were few and far in between, and certainly, not accessible at will. To even get a bowl of french fries, one had to wait for the winter harvest. Think of the ubiquity of our starch laden indulgence in our tech-dictated age, where it is just a few taps away on the screen!

Technology has ushered in pleasures at a rate far beyond a human’s capacity to experience them. The brain, stimulated constantly by novel stimuli, seems to be in overdrive from the rush of dopamine and serotonin. The ease with which pleasures are available to us in today’s age also begs us to contemplate about where exactly pleasure morphs into peril, access into addiction. How many addictions have we sanitized to normalcy?

Have we, in seeking pleasure, forgotten to discern which pleasures are worth pursuing and which ones are best avoided?

Before we talk about discernment, let’s simplify the types of pleasures we go out to seek.

At the risk of sounding simplistic, I believe that broadly, there are two kinds of pleasures:

1. The Simple Pleasures
2. The Easy Pleasures

The simpler pleasures of life are, in most cases, accessible to one and all without discrimination. A simple pleasure of life is accessible in the following two ways.

A Simple Pleasure :

a. Accessible by a Deep Presence : Think of a calming wind caressing your skin, a field of sunflowers in full bloom, glancing your finger on a touch-me-not plant, or watching the luminous courtship dance of fireflies on a dark night. These are simple pleasures accessible to anyone who is mindfully present in the moment.

b. Accessible by a Deep Perseverance : Think of the time when you created something new, a demanding pursuit that was awarded with the simple pleasure of a smile that stems from deep within, on realizing the beauty of what you’ve created. It could be a pot, a play, a sketch, a symphony, a code or a caramel cookie. Manifesting anew gives joy abound.

However, we are confronted with another kind of pleasure in today’s day and age. The Easier Pleasure.

The Easier Pleasures are :

a. Accessible as Cheap-Thrills : (vices, addictions, passive digital entertainment, sexual self-gratification, pornography)

b. Accessible as Lifestyle Frills : (Consumption borne out of wants and not needs, individualism to the point of corruption of the longing for fraternity, the culture of seeking identity from objects)

How does one discern between the two types of pleasures?
There’s a straightforward test to know the difference between a simple pleasure and an easy pleasure. A simple pleasure is borne out of creation. It could be the pleasure one gets from creating something or in marveling in being able to experience what someone else/ nature has created.

An easier pleasure is borne out of consumption. Through most of human history, the easier pleasure was accessible only to a select few. But with worldwide access to the internet, the easier pleasures have become accessible to much of our generation.

What if I were to suggest that the quality of your life is a function of the choice you make when confronted with the promise of experiencing pleasure?

While you have been designed to be a pleasure seeking being, and the body doesn’t discern a detrimental pleasure from a favorable one (it fires up the same happy hormones in either case!), the responsibility of making a wise choice rests on your own mind.

The more lasting pleasures are the ones that have been earned through perseverance, or through a solemn presence in the unfolding moment – the simpler pleasures that one is more likely to reminisce about around a warm fire-place on a winter evening.

Creating something is perhaps the most demanding pleasure of them all that calls for a devotion that is absolute. But it is a much more character building than the pleasure that comes from the effortlessly accessible act of crude consumption.

The prospect of a meaningful life rests on how well you are able to navigate the pleasure paradigm. While the easier, short-term pleasures are easy to access, they seldom qualify as prized nostalgia, nor do they chisel your character to reveal a more glorious manifestation of your self.

Steering our pleasure-seeking self in the direction that asks for presence and perseverance is the prudent choice.

And when in a dilemma in choosing between the promise of two pleasures, ask yourself which one of the two is an easier pleasure and which one is the simpler pleasure. Once you can discern that, set sail to the winds of the latter.

For wisdom lay in choosing your pleasures wisely.

On finding purpose in life

Imagine a stone age ancestor staring at a luminous galactic spiral in the vistas of the night sky. At some moment, while still years away from development of language, a higher consciousness was awakened in his being, as he asked himself a question that has befuddled the minds of every descendant ever since.

‘What am I here for?’
‘Does life really have any purpose?’

Simple as the question seems, even after all these years, humankind is yet to find a definitive answer to it.

We have unraveled many mysteries of the distant galaxies that our hominid ancestors were fascinated by. But even to this day, as we stare through a telescope at the rings of Saturn, or at a nebulous galaxy cluster lights years away, the same question resurfaces, as if the spectacle of the grandeur of the cosmos serves as a precursor to this elementary existential inquiry.

At this very moment, while a majority of humans that are alive are trying to find the answers to the meaning of existence in their own ways, there is a section of the demographic that exists so deeply in the present that the thought of finding a reason for existence does not ever occur.

Kids have never asked this question!

But the moment they begin to ask this question, they are beyond the cusp of childhood. Most of us reading this are past that phase. And in moments of solitude, especially when confronted with a thing of beauty, or the melancholy that accompanies the realization of our finitude, do we dwell on our existential relevance.

‘Why am I here?’

In the grand scheme of things, most of us do not have an answer to that question.
But should that be a reason to not seek?

Perhaps a change in perspective can come to the rescue.

While in the grand design of the universe, baffled by the perspective of the telescope, as you find yourself to be clueless about the reason for your existence, shift your gaze , re-focus and look at the world through the lens of your eyes, at the immediate world that surrounds you.

Shift your focus from the timelessness of the cosmos to this very fraction of the continuum of time.

In that moment, ask yourself the same question.

‘Why am I here?’

More often than not, you will find a convincing answer. Each living moment, you have a reason to do something. A motivation drives you to be alive and be involved in the world around you.

You could be at home, waiting for a loved one, or chasing your cat around the room to feed her, or wondering about your next work of art. You could be crying because you’ve not come to terms with a loss, or smiling because you heard from a long lost friend, you could be humming your favorite tune, be deeply engrossed in the work that you love best or snuggled up on your couch doing absolutely nothing.

In each of these instances, at the heart of the moment, you find a reason to exist.

Look around and ask yourself,
What am I here for?

Perhaps to be of help, to share your labor, to make someone’s day, to serve with devotion, or to take care of someone you love, perhaps your own self?

Once you reconcile with the unfathomable vastness and the vastness of the unfathomable, and focus on what brings meaning to the present moment, what role you must play in the little world around you, your heart will be reassured with an abiding sense of purpose.

Perhaps true meaning dwells in these little crevices of time, where you must do every little thing you do, with a lot of love.

But don’t shy away from the telescope just yet. For in that moment, as the lenses gather starlight, you are there to be fascinated, just like the stone age ancestor, transfixed by the cyclopean canvas of the cosmos.

कर्म और फ़ल

आख़िर फल मुझे क्यूँ मिलता नही
ऐसा रहा हरदम तुम्हारा रवैय्या
पर जो धक्का तुम लगाओ ना सही
तो भला क्या काम आएगा पहिया?

प्रतिभा है तुम्हे भेंट में मिली
पर मेहनत करना है तुम्हारी ज़िम्मेदारी
जो सत्य, सत्त्व और समर्पण मिले
तो साकार होंगी कोशिशें सारी

जो दीप भले तेल से छलके
भीनी सी हो सूत की बाती
जो मन में ज्वाला न जागे
तो कैसे रोशन हो दुनिया सारी?

कस लो कमर, करो तुम परिश्रम
अब पीछे छोड़ो तमस का घेरा
जब कसर रहे न कोई कम
तब ना रहेगा दिया तले अंधेरा

अब उठो और उठाओ तुम्हारा शस्त्र
कलम हो, कुल्हाड़ी हो या हो सितार
बलिदान से संवरेगा हर नक्षत्र
आखिर कर्म से ही होगी तुम्हारी नैय्या पार।

Entropy as a guide to making better choices in Life

Life is full of situations where we must make a choice. And it is the choices that determine the future course of our journey.

Each choice can affect the entropy of the existing situation in two ways. It can either

A) Conserve order
B) Disrupt order

Consider the example of a traffic signal. One can either follow the rules as prescribed , conserve order and ensure the smooth functioning of a system that is designed to be efficient and safe as long as the rules are adhered to.
Or, one can act in self interest, try to cut corners and disrupt the system. In this case though, breaking the order comes at the cost of the overall safety and efficiency of the system. The selfish behavior of breaking order comes at the cost of ease and well being of everyone else. Perhaps it is in the best interest of everyone to conserve order in this case.

But it is not imperative to conserve order at all times. Ossified ideologies, broken systems, dated models of education are meant to be disrupted. The disruption is a form of non- conformity that ushers in innovation.
Preserving order in such a case is detrimental to the progress of every stakeholder. If each of us remains selfish and chooses conformity over creativity, a dated system prevails at the cost of the possibility of a better future.
But if one is driven by the cause of a greater good and chooses to disrupt the order, a revolution whose time has come may find momentum.

Perhaps it makes better sense to take decisions based on whether your choices and actions are directed to bring a greater good in the community.
The decision that ensures the well-being of all is the best choice, whether it dictates to preserve order or to disrupt it.

Wisdom lay in recognizing when you are supposed to conserve order and when to create chaos, and acting or not acting, in the greater interest.

Rescued by a river

On the mighty plains, under the setting sun,
There flowed a mighty river

On its silty banks, there sat a lost man,
Much did he cry and quiver.

Through snuffles and shivers, he
gathered his voice, a few words he spun

To mother river, thus spoke, a beaten farmer son.

In utter grief, he partook in a dip, and the river knew of his tears

To allay her son of all his fears, the river whispered in his ears.

When met with rocks of refusal, my child,
Do not stop, and submit to surrender
Like a gushing river in monsoon swell,
With a lovely grace, charge and meander.

But mother, when will it end, this dreadful season of sorrow?
Without a rain, why should I sow, hope for tomorrow?

Trust the gradient of life, flow, do not ask for a reason why
Believe and be true to your spirit, surely shall you thrive
And even if the farmland is parched, desolate, run dry
The clouds are riding on the wind, wait as they arrive.

How long could I wait for, it has been too long a while
When the hand that feeds the world sleeps hungry, life seems all too futile.

To deem life futile is but futile my son, do not submit to a passive revolt
Ever wondered why I drain my fresh water in an ocean full of salt?
My end may seem tragic, but my life is magic, despite tides high or low
For the meaning of life is not in the end, but in all the life I create as I flow.

So, arm yourself with a sickle, and set out on your challenging quest
When fortune finds you working hard, shall you reap a bountiful harvest

Gather all your courage my son, despite darkness however deep
Arise, awake and march on, there is no time for you to weep
You have a world to feed after all, and promises plenty to keep
Set out in the field and make a change, even a little step is a giant leap.

The clouds heard their conversation, and together did they ply
To congregate and condense, to become a river in the sky

And thus the elements conspired with nature at the helm
As the first drop of rain and the last teardrop of the farmer, fell in tandem

And amid the drizzle, in ecstasy, the farmer ran to his farm
And the wise old river, blessed her child, and flowed on with a loving charm…

 

The Power of Everyday May 2019

It’s after a long hiatus that I am writing again in this space. After an year of experimenting with monthly power of everyday projects, I had chosen to take a break in the month of April.
But, soon enough, I realized that not having a daily challenge was proving to be counterproductive, and not really serving the purpose of a ‘rest’ phase so to say.

So, in the interest of being more focused, aligned and having a larger sense of purpose, I realized that having a monthly ‘Power of Everyday’ project, as I’ve had for the past year, is what I need the most.

Last year, I had an interesting ‘Power of Everyday’ project in the month of May. I had to wake up at the break of dawn, write a page about the spectacle of sunrise with my non-dominant left hand.
It was a fabulous learning experience which you can read about here.

This month, I have another experiment in mind that I would like to participate in.
For the past few months, I have been struggling with having discipline with my writing projects. I am writing a compilation of stories which has been languishing for the past few months mostly because of lack of discipline and structure on my part.
So, this month, I would like to lay down a simple, achievable plan to bring my story book to completion.

The Challenge for this month:

Spend one hour everyday on writing and editing the compilation of stories.

I am not taking any more challenges this month apart from the one mentioned above.

Hopefully, if I successfully complete the challenge this month, I will have a compilation of stories to share with you very soon !

How are things at your end?

Can a simple everyday challenge this month help you with achieving something that you’ve wished to, in the interest of having a better life?

If so, why not take a simple everyday challenge this May and usher in a conducive change in life?

I assure you that it will be a rewarding experience that will help you lead a more examined ‘everyday’.

I hope you will join me on this journey.

Wish you a happy Mango season.

Best,

Sreenath

The flight of a sunbird

When the little bird
With a faith blind
Embraced the whole world
With its delicate wings
It flew.

An Antidote to Depression- The Habit Loop

Depression.
A state of mind that we all face at some point in our life. And sadly, it is something we dread accepting, and confronting the way it is.

I am not talking about clinical depression here. I speak about a general discontent and disillusionment towards life, that makes one feel inactive and despondent.

This feeling plagues us all at some point in our lives. While we cannot do away with it altogether, can we design a scheme that helps us swim out of the pool of passivity?

Today, I would like to suggest a method that has helped me overcome despondency and realign my focus in life.

It is a four step process called ‘The Habit Loop’.
The steps are as follows :

1) Acceptance

A couple of days ago, as I was sharing my somber state of mind with a friend, she told me something that changed my perspective towards the issues I was facing.
She told me that it is but human to feel the way I was feeling at some point in life. One cannot be motivated and enthusiastic all the time. In fact, would it even be desirable!

That insight gave me the courage to accept my state of mind as it was.
It is normal to feel despondent from time to time. It is best to avoid to whirlpool of ‘why me?’ and stay clear of self pity.

2) Resolution

The most important question you must answer in a despondent state of mind is :

Do I want to come out of this phase?

Only when you have made a deliberate decision that you want to come out of this phase can you move forward from where you stand.

The resolution to change things, a decision that comes from deep within, is paramount.

3) Confrontation

Now that you have accepted your state of mind and decided to bring about a change, what should be the next step?

In my experience, the most obvious symptom of depression is when one stops to confront himself.

There is a tendency to :

A) disrupt all systems one adhered to that brought a sense of structure to life

B) cave to desires of decadence, marked particularly by over-indulgence in consuming data, food, sex

C) not confront yourself, look into the mirror, or create art

We do all of this while being fully aware that it doesn’t serve us best.

The easiest way to come out of this state is by confronting yourself.

Here’s a few ways that might help one do that:

1) Take a sheet of paper and write down what you have been doing and why.

2) If writing is not your thing, make a voice note, speak what exactly what you’ve been up to and why

3) The most effective one, is to make a video, speak into the camera about your current state of mind and what you’ve been doing while you were stuck in the rut

This is the step that will truly test your resolution, whether you want to really get out a depressed state of mind or not.
But as soon you start doing this, you will realize that you have enough self respect to not bullshit yourself to no end. Within a few minutes, you will address matters that have been responsible for your despondency and find ways to come out of it.
It is self diagnosis, and it works better than anything else I’ve come across.

4) Repetition

Of course, you will need to repeat the whole process over and over and build your resilience.

With enough practice, you will be able to
face the vicissitudes of life with equanimity.

It might take a while to crawl out of a somber state, but the more you repeat the four step habit loop, the easier it will become along the way.

I hope my suggestion helps you in times of trouble.

Feel free to share your experiences, reflections and feedback in the comments below.

If you feel this article will help someone is need, please feel free to share it with them.

Good luck on the bumpy roller coaster ride of life!

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