Thursday, December 10, 2009

A state of balance and inner peace

I. Introduction
I have been to extremes, rather I should say I began exploring the extremes in my college life.
I experienced incredible freedom in my college days at the Indian Institute of Technology(IIT), so much so that I explored the freedom in many possible ways, some constructive, some not so constructive.
Let me give a few examples:

1) Sleep: Till my college days, I was very disciplined in my sleep. Ofcourse, I was living with my family and everyone would go to bed early. So I would sleep by 10 pm or 11 pm, no later than that and get up by 6-7 am.
That all changed in my second or third year in college. I thrilled in sleeping late. I explored sleeping at different times, 2 am,4 am, 6 am, etc. I even took pride in that I could sleep that late and not let my body be affected.
The extreme sleep cycles went on even when I came to Udub to pursue my Phd. I was sometimes sleeping at 11 am in the morning and getting up late in the evening.
At this point, I was desperately trying to stabilize my sleep. It was no longer a thrill. It was no longer a use of my freedom, it was rather a misuse of my freedom.
Freedom comes with responsibility and I was beginning to come to terms with that.

2) Focus: In my college days, I was so thrilled by what I could explore apart from my academics. I explored running, swimming, biking, hiking, spirituality, philosophy and so on. I was just jumping from one to another, tasting one and sipping another without really going deep into anyone of them. Ofcourse, I did take running seriously, but there was no real balance between my extracurricular activities and my academics. I still face the problem of focus, but to a lesser extent now.

What I have realized through my explorations and experiences in life is that
balance is important in life.

II. Different areas in which one can bring about balance

1) Balanced emotions:
Having balanced emotions is a great asset. When one goes from extreme joy to extreme sadness or extreme love to extreme anger, there is a continual dreading of the negative extreme, there is an imbalance that affects decision making, clarity and focus.
On the other hand, when one has balanced emotions, one can be calm even when things outside are upside down and can make quick and effective decisions most of the times.

Balanced emotions can be brought about in many ways including breathing exercises (pranayama), deep relaxation, meditation, and even through an understanding of the need for balance. Forgiving people quickly and sending everyone in your life positive thoughts is another easy way to be in a state of balance.

2) Work-life balance
This is something everyone is working on. For me it has taken some time to realize this. I would go from fully focusing on work during one week to totally taking it easy the next week.
Nowadays, my days start with having positive intentions for the day, meditation and then work.
Coming back, I meditate before going to sleep. I also run over the weekends. I find this to be a much better balance than the life I was leading before.

3) Understanding equanimity and balanced interactions
I just want to point out here that, equanimity is not just being calm when something unwanted happens but it is also being calm and balanced even when something 'fantastic' happens.
Not getting easily excited or perturbed by outside events and being centered and calm when interacting with people who are easily excitable or are perturbed is a sign of an equanimous state of mind.

I have come to understand the following principle and it's potent use in my life.

The principle of balance - A self-regulating mechanism
- Whenever you get perturbed in the mind by some event or some memory or someone's comment or some worry, notice the perturbation and come back to the present.

Note that the ability to quickly notice the perturbations of the mind without exacerbating the perturbations is itself is a big skill that can be acquired with practice.
The next step is to find ways to quickly come back to a state of balance once the perturbation has been noticed.

III. A few quick ways to come back to a balanced state of mind

1) Continual reminders: Remind yourself to be at peace continually. The effect of these reminders is that when there is a 'big perturbation' due to some event or memory, this reminder will play in your mind and you will quickly come out of the 'perturbation' to a state of balance.

2) Continual relaxation: Stress builds with time. Strees in the mind translates as tension in the body. 'Scan' your body frequently. Mentally focus on different parts of the body and sense if there is any tension and relax it. Relaxing the body does affect the mind and helps bring the balance. Sometimes when the mind is perturbed, it's difficult to calm it down. The easiest thing to do at that time would be to 'scan' the body and relax it.

3) Observing the content of your thoughts: When one observes the vacillating nature of one's own mind, you realize that you can either add to that vacillation or stabilize that vacillation
by becoming a passive observer to the thought process. This passive observation brings about balance quickly and helps us understand why we think the way we do and consciously bring about a change to the thinking process.

4) Following the breath: The breath is intricately linked to the state of mind.
When you are angry, you breathe quickly and shallowly. On the other hand, when you are calm and relaxed, you breathe deeply. A technique therefore is to focus on the breathing and observe its rhythm. This observation in itself affects its rhythm and the breath becomes slower and deeper. If there are distracting thoughts, gently bring it back to the breath and continue observing its rhythm.

Symbol of balance:
I just want to mention here, that when I was listening to some peaceful chanting in the night 1 year back, I had a vision of the image displayed at the top of this article. I thought about what this image might mean - I knew that this was a symbol that came up often in Indian films whenever there was a courtroom scene. But then it struck me, ofcourse - This is a symbol of balance - Balancing the scales.
I thank my intuition for this image. I have come a long way since then in balancing my emotions and life and ofcourse, there is always room for improvement.

Here's to balance and inner peace for everyone in the world.

No comments: