Saturday, 15 August 2015

The Art Of Fixing That Which Is Broken

Japanese aesthetics values marks of wear and tear that come with the prolonged use of an object. Keeping an object around even after it is broken, highlighting the cracks and repairs, is seen as simply an event in the life of an object, rather than considering that its usefulness ends when it becomes damaged or breaks.

Kintsugi, a Japanese term meaning `golden joinery', or Kintsukuroi, `golden repair', refers to the art of fixing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold. The piece often ends up looking more beautiful than before.

A story is told to perhaps trace the origin of this process. In the 15th century, the favourite tea-bowl of the Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa broke, and wanting to drink out of no other cup, he sent it to China for repair. Unfortunately, it came back held together with unsightly metal staples. The Shogun was very disappointed, and challenged his own Japanese craftsmen to come up with a more pleasing means of repair. The potters decided to fill the cracks with lacquered resin and powdered gold. The broken cup became a stunning work of art, valued precisely because of the exquisite way it was repaired.

Often, we try to repair broken things in such a way as to conceal the repair, and make it `as good as new', but the tea masters and potters understood that by repairing a broken bowl with the distinctive beauty of radiant gold, they could instead employ a `better than new' aesthetic.

After mending, the bowl's unique fault lines were transformed into little rivers of gold that made it even more special because the bowl was now unlike any other; completely, uniquely beautiful; a radical physical transformation from broken to newly whole, from useless to priceless.

In Japan there is a kind of reverence for the art of mending, related to the Japanese philosophy of mushin that embraces the concepts of nonattachment, recognition of change and fate as aspects of human life, of living with equanimity amid changing conditions. The philosophy invites us to recognise the history of the object ­ or person ­ and to visibly incorporate the repair instead of disguising it.

Experiencing knocks and breaks and wounds is an unavoidable part of living. It happens to all of us. Relationships break, friendships break, hopes and dreams remain unfulfilled, health and wealth suffer cracks and many times we feel incapable of repairing ourselves.
We handle the breaks in different ways. We may get stuck in the brokenness, indulging in self-pity, or becoming consumed with anger, and never heal. Or else, we pretend the brokenness never happened or we drive it into our `shadow', and as a result deny it and act against it in others without quite knowing why we do this. Sometimes, a bit wiser, we give ourselves the time and attention we need to heal those broken parts, but the resulting scars still feel painful, and remind us of the wounding. And then there are times when we give ourselves the time and attention, but also work to slowly make those places stronger than they were before.

In the throes of an event perceived as negative, it is impossible to see the good in that situation, but looking back we can see that most often, events of brokenness brought in new understanding, or our life took a different course.

It is then that our breaks and scars, as we mend from them, can seem beautiful, in the way they allow us to bring healing, and with it acceptance of the gilded beauty within us.

By Marguerite Theophil - First Published in 

Saturday, 8 August 2015

How to Stay Calm in Frustrating Situations

How to Stay Calm in Frustrating Situations

No Stress

"Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned." ~Buddha

Uh-oh, you did it again.
You fell into the same trap as last week.
Perhaps someone was driving in front of you going 20 in a 55 mph zone, or maybe you received terrible customer service and couldn't get your refund.
So you snapped and lost your temper.
Whatever the reason for your explosive reaction, you haven't yet found a way to keep control and remain calm.
Becoming impatient and losing your temper is sort of like smoking cigarettes. Sure, one or a few hundred won't kill you.
But compounded over time it'll secretly damage you from within by alienating yourself, negatively influencing your kids, and indirectly pushing your spouse or close ones away.
Despite your situation being a big deal, you may not know where to begin to fix it.
You feel powerless to control it, so you continue sweeping it under the rug.

How I Unknowingly Inherited and Cultivated an Unwanted Trait

For most of my life and practically all stressful encounters, I'd become frustrated and lose my temper. I didn't realize I was subconsciously "practicing" negativity each time I did that.
I was acting out an unwanted behavior repeatedly, over and over to the point of mastering pessimism.
I displayed an objectionable outburst for every resented encounter.
Practice makes perfect, after all. And ultimately, I perfected being negative.
Sigh … an unwanted skill so simple to obtain.
My dad learned it from my grandpa, I learned it from my dad, and I've unintentionally passed it on to my two little daughters.
My impatience infected my family. This endless cycle needed to end.
For years, my family stuck with me no matter what, and my guilt coaxed me into trying to finally put a stop to it all.
I tried many things over the years to conquer my impatience—everything from meditation to conscious laughter—and while these methods might help others, they didn't really work for me.
So I struggled trying new tactics—until I found what worked.
Through a lot of trial and error, I've finally conquered it with the following techniques:

1. Curse if you have to.

We all know cursing is a bad habit to begin with, but we need to start somewhere, especially when reacting to situations that set us off.
The moment you instinctively curse, take that as your audible queue to immediately inhale deeply. Visualize negative energy purging from your body as you exhale.
Repeat a few more times to generate a feeling of calm and control.
It can be hard to quit cursing cold turkey, so allow yourself to curse, notice when you do, and then use breathing exercises to calm yourself down.
You're ultimately aiming to replace your expletives with calming breaths the instant a stressful situation arises.
It's advisable to curse when alone—not at others or around those who might be offended (such as parents with children).

2. Do not walk away to cool off.

Instead of walking away to cool off, do the opposite and face the stress head-on by training your brain to "visualize calm" at the moment the stress occurs.
I found that walking away is like a pause button. It only delays the inevitable but doesn't fix the root of the problem. I wasn't reprogramming my brain to react positively when the stimuli occurred.
So for me, visualizing calm was my baby daughter sleeping; for others, a waterfall may do.
When losing our cool, we snap without thinking.
By forcing yourself to visualize calm the moment the stress takes place, you are essentially diffusing it as a potential trigger.
You're nipping it in the bud before it escalates.

3. Fight stress with more stress.

Creatively think of another stressful situation that's ten times bigger than the one you have now, then juxtapose them to realize that your initial stress isn't such a big deal anymore.
These two stressors should be related to each other for this to work.
So what's worse: being late for a job interview, or getting into a mangled car wreck because you were tailgating?

4. Learn to love your enemy in under sixty seconds.

Instead of becoming irate toward the person you feel has wronged you, visualize a loving family member, a caring friend, or anyone close to you in their place instead.
Imagine for a moment that you're driving to work going the speed limit when all of a sudden someone going half your speed abruptly cuts in front of you prompting you to slam on your brakes.
If that were a stranger, you would lose your mind in a heartbeat.
But you can change the whole dynamic. If it were your mother, you would relax in a second and be thankful you didn't accidentally hurt her.
You'll feel an overwhelming sense of peace and accomplishment when you can throw your ego out the window and care about a total stranger.
And what if the person you're frustrated by is a family member? For me, this one's easy. I think of one caring act they have done for me in the past.

5. Apply the asteroid scenario test.

Simply put, if an asteroid hit Earth and life as we know it was about to end, you'd have a choice:
Would you really spend your final days stressing and worrying about something you have absolutely no control over?
Or would you be happy with your loved ones with whatever time you have left?
Extreme situation, I know, but you need to decide and move forward.
Learn to ascertain what you cannot control, and acknowledge this with unwavering acceptance. Then focus on positive steps you can control instead.

6. Accept criticism gracefully.

By accepting criticism without malice, you are neutralizing any tension and strengthening your poise under pressure. You can think of it as psychological judo by redirecting someone else's verbal attacks away from you.
Yes, you will feel hurt and angry, and you'll feel the sting afterward. That's completely normal.
But instead of retaliating impulsively and getting into a heated argument, remember that you can either leave this unstable mess as it is or you can add more fuel to the fire and make it bigger than it already is.
Choose wisely and pick the lesser of the two evils.
No matter what situation you face, know this fact:
You have the power to make a choice. Never, ever give that power away.
Don't waste your precious energy on things that accomplish absolutely nothing.

I've Finally Arrived

It's quite an achievement: I feel closer to my family than ever.
I gradually see my daughters "unlearning" how to be impatient. They followed suit without being aware of it.
It's a work in progress, but pleasing nonetheless.
It's simply amazing how others absorb your warm energy.
I communicate so much easier with my loving wife too. Of course, we do have minor quibbles here and there, but we don't have any sarcastic sharp-tongue arguments now!
Everything feels healthy and balanced.

Start Small in the Right Direction

Engaging in stress is a daily ritual all of us fall victim to with absolute ease.
Make a conscious effort to catch yourself if you falter.
Wait too long and you risk boiling it over. It's too late if you're already worked up.
And if you're dead-set on knowing you'll fail, you will. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy.
So take a stand.
Make an effort to change for the better each instance you feel something simmering from within you.
Use perseverance as a vehicle to your destination.
Your family, everyone close to you, and your own happy life are waiting for you.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Satsang As The Means To Freedom

The question-answer format is a great way to teach and learn. Satsang is a diligent involvement on the part of the students in their quest for knowledge and an equally diligent involvement of the teacher who guides the search. So, we see Nachiketas pressing for answers from Yama in Katha Upanishad. We see the untiring Uddalaka repeating to Svetaketu about the nature of the Self. Uddalaka gives nine illustrations to show the equation between jiva and Brahmn which testifies to the kindness of vedantic teachers towards their students. Briefly then, it is this meaningful involvement on the part of the teacher and the taught that is called satsang.

In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Yagnavalkya expounds to Maitreyi the concept of satsang as the means to freedom. He says listening is the first step which effortlessly leads one to reflection, which, through a purified mind, resolves in the experience of oneself as the reality. Sravanam or listening, is given repeated emphasis for the reason that the mind is completely new to the way of self-contemplation and has no aptitude for such processes. It can be made contemplative through constant exposure to the teaching which involves listening.

Know reality through constant questioning and by service to the teacher who `knows' the Self. Here service implies getting involved in finding answers for all questions pertaining to the Self. It also implies remaining exposed to the teacher's benign teaching. To live the life indicated by the rishis is the greatest seva that an imperfect mortal could offer to the man-of-perfection. The word `perfection' used by Krishna implies repeated inquiry through seeking answers to questions.

By addressing one's doubts to the teacher we are opening the box of `knowledge' locked up in the master's bosom. A perfect guru immediately detects from the questions asked the false line of thinking of the students. While removing doubts the guru imperceptibly orders and reorganises the pattern of thinking of the student. It has thus been an age-old tradition among Hindus to encourage open dialogues between teacher and taught and which is rightly called satsang.

Association with the wise leads to detachment from sense-pleasures. That in turn leads to freedom from the delusion that the world is real. When the false sense of reality goes, the mind abides in the Self. This abiding state with one's Self is freedom. Satsang thus paves the path to freedom.

An Upanishad is even named Prasna Upanishad, meaning questions and answers as a means to freedom. Six great students approach the teacher Pippalada, wanting to get some doubts cleared. The teacher frees them from all inhibitions in asking questions by saying, `Ask questions as you like'. Encouraging questions is the only way to involve the students' thinking. The first question deals with the problem of creation of the pluralistic world, the second and third discuss methods of worship and the initial sadhana necessary for perfect integration of the seeker's mind and intellect before he steps on to the path of meditation in vedanta. The fourth and fifth questions are an exhaustive enquiry undertaken to study dream and sleep. In the sixth question the main problem is taken up: How to indicate by finite words the seat of the Self, in all is infinite glory and eternality?

This unique method adopted in our scriptures makes them non-dogmatic. The freedom to approach the teacher in person and freely ask questions is the right atmosphere in which the human mind grows and rises to heights of freedom.

~ Swami Chinmayananda
(362nd Geeta Gyana Vagna. Courtesy: Chinmaya Mission, Delhi.)