Sreenath Sreenivasan

Thriving Mindfully

Category: Responsibility (page 1 of 3)

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.

Eye to Eye

If a tree had eyes,
And man had a conscience
What would happen
When their eyes meet?

On the daily horoscope

There was a colorful supplement that came along with the New Year edition of the newspaper that caught my attention.

It was the yearly horoscope.

Printed in those four colorful pages was supposedly, the collective future of a mass of people born under a certain sun sign.

I somehow missed out on reading that supplement on New Year’s eve. But the very next day, there was another column that I discovered in the leisure section that was of similar nature. It was the daily horoscope.

I wondered to myself,

There must be a lot of people who follow this column. Why else would they print it every single day !’

Yet, I had my reservations about feeding my mind with a generic prophesy about how my day would pan out to be.

I had another system in place which served my mind space much better.

Every morning, I would write down three simple things down in my journal :

1) How I felt
2) What I was going to do on that day
3) Why

One could say, it was a prediction for how my day would look like. And, on most occasions, my day would be in sync with my own predictions. Rather than spending time deciphering the cryptic clues in a newspaper forecast, it was well worth my time to apply myself and strive for what I wanted to do.

I believe that to have a daily prediction for your own immediate future is the best way forward.
When the newspaper prediction goes wrong, you can blame the stars or the person who cobbled up the column together.
But when your own daily prediction fails, who could you blame?

As the saying goes,

The best way to predict future is to create it.’

Why feed our mind with a generic forecast with questionable authenticity, when you can channel your energy towards doing what matters to you most?

Everyday is a good day to do something meaningful. And if you pursue your calling with energy and enthusiasm, regardless of the prophesy of a horoscope, the stars will line up in your favor.

Script your own daily horoscope.
Be responsible.
Make your future happen!

 

A Farmer’s Demise

Life gives the farmer grains and lemons few,
He take them to sell, with a hope new,
And again he falls for the market’s spell,
He makes a big loss, for all that he could sell.

 

Life gives Sahib, means to money and more,
He trades all day, hoping the market shall soar,
A seasoned player, he knows the game too well,
He makes a fortune yet, to no one shall he tell

 

The farmer in agony, comes home to rest,
He pours himself a drink meant for a pest,
Dejected, in tears, down he chugs,
And wreaths and submits to a death meant for bugs.

 

The Sahib comes home, ecstatic from the gain,
He pours himself a drink, brewed from the farmer’s grain,
Elated, he finds himself in seventh heaven,
And follows the drink with a lick of salt and lemon.

 

It is high time, Sahib needs an awakening rude,
He needs the farmer, even before there is any food,
Sahib, make a change, make sure that you see,
That no farmer ever dies, wishing money grew on his tree.

 

 

How to Upgrade your existence

Normal is such a normal word isn’t it?
It refers of all things ordinary, the banal, the commonplace, not showing any deviance from the usual.
It is a word that references itself in its character. Normal.

There is an ubiquity to this word, despite how flavorless it is.
We use this word quite often to refer to the state in our own life. In fact, despite how lacklustre it sounds, we all wish for a ‘normal’ life, don’t we?

There is only one issue with wishing for such a normalcy in life.
It is that, often we seek what’s considered normal on a societal level. We take normal to be something that has met with the tacit agreement of others around us. We do not take a moment to consider and set a benchmark for our own self, of what we want our normal to be!

Let me cite a personal example.

The other day, my father came into my room when I was writing. He was a bit surprised to see me write with my left hand. He’d always remembered me to be right-handed. Since he hadn’t seen me for a long time, he wondered if he had forgotten which was my dominant hand.

Eventually I told him that I had been writing with my left hand everyday for the past 18 months. And now, it felt totally normal to me. I sometimes come to my writing desk and pick up the pen quite instinctively with my left hand.

That’s a normal I worked towards, something I eventually I got used to.

Would it not be best, if we strived to upgrade our ‘normal’ to a more challenging state of being?
Normal doesn’t have be a constant, it needs to have a positive evolutionary slope.

Personally, I am still trying to level up on my normalcy. I am constantly trying to be open in the heart, just as a child, something that doesn’t come naturally to adults. But I am working my way towards making it a normal part of my being.
Likewise there are many other areas where I wish to bring an elevation in my normal state of being. It is an ongoing process that challenges you to grow mindfully.

There is nothing wrong with wishing to lead a normal life, as long as you define what you accept as normal, as long as you choose to push your boundaries and upgrade your normalcy.

The same word, normal, gets invigorated once we choose give it our own definition.

Define your own ‘normal’ and constantly strive for an upgrade in your state of being.
To do that for your evolution, should after all become,
Normal.

When an old man runs

An old man used to frequent a park. He wouldn’t do much there. He would just sit on a wooden bench and enjoy the breeze of the season.
Every evening, he would see a group of three young men meet at the park after work. They would just sit on the bench opposite him and chatter away mindlessly.

The old man could barely see much. But even in a few months of observation, he could sense the gradual deterioration in the health of the young men.

He wished to change things.
But how? He wondered.

The next day, the old man quit his slippers and came to the park in his shoes. Just as the three men came in the park that evening, they were surprised to see the old man walk around the park with his cane.
In a few weeks, the old man felt healthy enough to set aside his cane and walk briskly without it.
Each time he would pass their field of vision, the men would feel a strange feeling inside them. Their talking would stop and all their attention would momentarily be on the old man.

The following month, the three men got a big shock. The old man was jogging slowly around the park with a beaming smile. There wasn’t much talk that day, just a lot of silence.

Next day, the old man got a surprise he was wishing for all along. The three young men were waiting for him in their running shoes. Soon, the three of them were following the old man around like chicks around mama hen.
Even with his slow breezy pace, the old man had moved three mountains semingly set in stone, in gentle onward motion.

For a few weeks they would run like this everyday.
Until one day, the old man didn’t show up.

They assumed that he was unwell and continued on with the running.

Little did they know, that from the vantage of heaven, he was rejoicing the sight of a stuttered jog turning into elegant strides.

Isn’t that the best way to make a change whose time has come?
To lead by example, beyond all rationalisation.

If we seek positive change, then shouldn’t we, at every moment, strive to be either the old man or the three young men?

If we can, we must lead the change.
If not, we should follow the ones who show us the path.

Our little world needs a lot of change.
Passivity breeds deterioration.
Only in running actively, in the direction of solutions would we find the blueprint of a better world.

Run. Follow. Learn.

 

 

Lesson from Failure (Power of Everyday Project – July Update)

I have always been interested about the possibilities consistent practice has to offer. That is what led me to start ‘The Power of Everyday’ project where I take a few activities that matter to me and promise to do them every single day.

While I have had experiences of inconsistent practice for most of my adult life, and recently had success for a couple of months at being extremely consistent ever since I started the project,
I gradually fell back into the trap of  inconsistency in the month of July.

That explains much of my inconsistent blog publishing schedule and inactivity in daily life.
While I could reason it with the gloomy monsoon weather and a 10 day trek where I had no access to Internet or electricity, deep down I know,
excuses apart,
Plain and simple,
I did not deliver on my promises.

Here’s my performance sheet for reference :

Action based goals

1) Practise Yoga Everyday (7/31)
2) Write and Publish a blog everyday (9/31)
3) Write Haiku Everyday (11/31)

Awareness based goals

1) Posture awareness (7/31)
2) Zero waste lifestyle (24/31)
3) Celibacy (31/31)

As it is evident, apart from the last task, I did quite dismally in all the rest.

But even in failure, I had great success in learning about myself.

a) For example, while being mindful of my posture, I realised how my walking posture and foot landing habit is affecting the overall balance of my body. I had been struggling with frail balance of my body for a few years. Only when I started to  observe my body did I realise what was wrong and now I can look for ways to improve.

b) While I could not avoid packaged products entirely, I along with my friend Lee, manager to collect 5 kgs of trash all along our trek in Nepal. In the process we could understand why people need to carry package food on challenging treks just like we did.
Also, we realised that there could be ways to better the situation.
For example, with each treking permit there should be a garage bag handed out so that a trekker has an option to collect the trash he produces.

c) I also realised that writing keeps me alive, present and excited about living each day. The moment I stopped to write and share it with the world, I felt a sense of gloom dawn upon me. It was a great feeling to realise how much a particular habit mattered to my emotional well being.

4) And above all, as I wrote this post, I realise how therapeutic the process of confronting your own failure is.
I feel more accountable to you in a way.
It would be so easy to hide my shortcomings.
But that does not serve growth, neither mine nor yours.

I had a great month nevertheless, full of novel experiences like experiencing Nepal as a culture, going on my first 10 day extended trek , meeting free roaming Yaks at 4000 meters above sea level, watching a glacier turn into a might river that flowed across borders and most importantly, I got to spend time with a dear friend in nature for two weeks.

I am grateful for being able to experience these wonders of life.

For the next month,
I have only two awareness based goals for the Power of Everyday project, August Edition.

1) Stay without the internet for a month
2) Stay Celibate

As the first goal suggests, I will not be posting any new blogs in the month of August.
Still, I will be writing, reflecting and compositing more meaningful work and will share it with you when I am back online in the month of September.

I hope those of you who took a challenge for the Power of Everyday project learned something in the process. Feel free to share your reflections in the comments below.
As I mentioned earlier, there’s grace in accepting even our failures because only then do we keep your mind open for reflection and improvement.
Even if you did not keep up to your promises, reflect on why that happened and how you could perform better in future.

Also, if the project excites you, please take up a challenge for the month of August and share your learnings at the end of the month.
You can share your challenge in the comments below for the sake of accountability 🙂

Hoping to see you on September 1st with fresher perspectives.

With love,

Sreenath

Finding honest critique in the age of constant gratification

In today’s age of hyper-connectedness it is easier than ever before to share your your life, your work of art with the world.
We have cleverly designed platforms that we choose to express ourself through.
While these social media platforms have simplified the act of expression,
It has also sowed inside us, a seed of constant hunger,
Of seeking validation.

Today, the act of creating itself cannot find the isolation it needs.
We are busy sharing that we are going to do something, we have just started doing something…..Up until we are finished with doing something.
We fail to shut the door on the world to actually get to the process of creating something without distractions.
It is the result of the clever architecture of these platforms that are dictating our behavior and psychology.
We need to feel we are relevant,
We matter…
We are but,
human after all.

As a contemporary artist, I’ve always felt the process of creation never finds the isolation, incubation and single minded dedication it calls for.
The continuum of creation is always interfered by the parallel world of validation (read social media) we choose to dabble with.
In a way we are driven to be ‘Like’ minded .

This culture is detrimental to an artist’s growth in the long run in my opinion.

Once an artist shares his labor of love, he expects people to take notice, like it and share it with the community at large.
The feedback comes through a single click,
A like button, a heart shaped button and their many cousins…
This cursory appraisal is only valued when it comes in numbers.
There is no way of knowing how much what you created affected another person.
Maybe a masterpiece of a portrait you worked on for months got 20 thumbs up and a goofy selfie of yours got 200.

But maybe the 20 people were moved by your art, and majority of the 200 encouraged you out of habit and the prospect of reciprocity.

A pertinent question here is,

‘How does an artist find honest critique amid this culture of numbers, of short attention spans and a juggernaut of new feed?’

Here is where good old friendship and mentorship stands strong.

On social media you’re more likely to find cursory attention than love, virulent hatred than critique.

A friend or a mentor on the other hand, cares about your growth. You are more likely to find honest opinion, encouragement and suggestions about avenues to grow, when you share your art with them.
It is a matter of privilege to have these handful of people around.

If you still wish to get a sense of how many lives you touched through your art through social media,
Look for how many people took out the time to write something about your art.
Did anyone feel moved enough to leave you a comment?
The written word means so much more than ten thousand clicks on an icon.
What would you remember more,
A number or an emotion you stirred in someone’s heart through your art?

As an artist, for the sake of better art, we need to stay clear from the culture of constant gratification.

Only when we give ourself the isolation to work with all our heart,
Can our work add up to something remarkable.

Also, as responsible consumers of content, we should choose the written word to express our feelings more often than giving someone a thumbs up.
We are capable of being more articulate about our emotions than that !

Once we look at life as art in making and choose to voice our opinions in a more conscious manner, we will enable a better atmosphere for art to find expression and constructive critique.
And Life,
as art,
will inevitably,
Thrive.

 

 

On thumbs up, selfie camera and creating culture

For the past few days I’ve been bicycling in areas where there is no mobile connectivity whatsoever.
No phone calls, no internet, no social media.
There have been frequent stretches that were challenging each an every bit of me. Since I am new to biking in the mountains in such high altitude and UV ray exposure, it only added to the challenge posed by the terrain.

At spots where I thought I had given it all and I needed to stop, a biker would pass by on a motorcycle from the other side and give me a thumbs up. And I would pedal on a bit further, energised by the validation of a fellow human.
Soon, I would meet more bikers and everyone should give a thumbs up encouragingly.
At times, only their heartfelt applause would take me ahead.
By the end of the day, I would get a thumbs by so many people that I would be energised and be able to complete my daily cycling goal.

I realised that even if I do not have access to social media, where I would get a virtual thumbs up, here I was, getting a thumbs up validation in the real world by people who were physically present with me in that moment. That always made me feel that I was on the right track and I carried on.

A thumbs up has great power.
In the virtual world though, we use it far too callously in my opinion.

On social media, each time we hit the like button (thumbs up) we validate the person and his actions.
In the present cultural scenario, social media feed is rife with selfies and pictures people pose for. Natural pictures captured in the moment are becoming rarer.
Especially with millennials, who grew up with the selfie culture and trading likes for validation, a picture can get hundreds of likes by friends. This in turn populates the social media feed with more passive/ posed for selfies.

I must stress that I have nothing against social media and believe it can be of immense value if used wisely.

But as responsible users of social media we have a duty. We ought to be more discerning about what we validate through our likes.
Yes, even in passive scrolling through social media feed, we have the power to validate what we want more of and what we could do away with.

Maybe, we should admire pictures that were captured in the moment, without any kind of posing per se. We should laud pictures clicked by others, while the subject was doing something that was close to his heart, too engrossed to be worried about capturing the moment.

Yes, we might not have friends around all the time to capture the moment, but the selfie camera at times makes friends redundant!
Scary to imagine isn’t it!

The selfie camera should be used as a tool, in moderation, while being mindful that it doesn’t serve as a tool for self indulgence.

Coming back to the like button (thumbs up), remind yourself that you are setting a culture.
You are validating a stream of information.
You have the power to shape the discourse of social culture.

Choose wisely.
Like mindfully.

 

 

Smile, will you?

I had been bicycling uphill constantly for an hour and a half. I wished to reach a village called Marhi, 40 kms uphill from Manali, India.

At one point, the elevation was too steep for me to keep the bicycle in motion. I decided to stop catch a much needed breath. My heart was racing like that of caged mice on steroids. I leaned my head down to rest it on the handlebar and slowly let my heart rate drop with each deep breath.

In this incapacitated state, I heard a voice from behind.

‘Hey, where are you coming from?’ asked a man wearing a friendly smile.

‘I have been bicycling from Delhi. Today, I wish to reach Marhi, about 30 kms up from here.’

He took a good look up and down my petite body frame.

With an equal measure of wonder and resolve, he said,
‘I own a gym back home. But I myself feel quite unfit. I used to take a car from home to the gym and then exercise hoping to lose weight.
But today, after seeing you, I promise that I will get myself a bicycle and bike to the gym everyday.
You gave me great energy !’

I wondered, how could I, being in such a beaten down, tired state, could still energise a random stranger on the road?

His gesture eased my heart. I thanked him and continued onward.

At a point where I was vulnerable, this person acknowledged my presence, my pursuit and my grit and replenished me with energy.
I realised how much a person desires to be acknowledged.

Moving on, I saw a board on the highway that grabbed my attention. It mentioned the name of the army engineer who first envisioned and surveyed the Manali-Leh highway. I felt good to know of the visionary man who dared to dream of a highway in such treacherous terrain.

Further down the road, I saw construction workers toiling away under the full sun, building a section of the highway. A few kilometers ahead, there were people laying down optical fiber cables.

And I wondered, the names of these people will never appear on any sign board saying that they helped build a highway, or they laid the cables for the high speed internet we would enjoy.
Then, at that moment, I remembered how much I’d liked being acknowledged by the gym owner in the highway.

It is such a human quality after all!

Right then, I made a decision to wave at or give a thumbs up to each person I find working on the road.
And thereafter, no construction worker was ever left without a smile.
Some of them were apprehensive to smile. That just made me realise how rarely were they even acknowledged as humans.

This experience only made me believe that we should acknowledge and celebrate these name less faceless humans who work hard in oblivion to ensure our lives run smoothly.

Next time you find someone whose work would mostly go unacknowledged, choose to just smile at them, give a thumbs up, or if you can afford the time, talk to them for a bit.

Your attention and affection are precious.
Choose to ration a little of it to people who go unnoticed.
All of sudden, the world around you will embody more love and brotherhood.

It all boils down to your choice.

Smile, will you?

 

 

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