It’s a common saying that we bring nothing into this world when we are born and we take back nothing when we die. Maybe, maybe. It might even be good if it was entirely true. The fact is, there’s plenty we are born with and there’s a great deal that we take back with us. For one thing, our karma goes with us. Whether you believe in reincarnation or heaven, our actions largely determine our future beyond our present lifetime.
Getting back to birth, we are certainly not empty-handed when we come into this world. Other than a body with five senses that can experience touch, smell, taste, sound and sight, we are born with two even more incredible things. First is life. Yes, we are born with life bubbling in us. Life that is more than the sum total of breathing in and breathing out. It is not a slog or a slugfest (it needn’t be). In the beginning, life is beautiful and everything is looking up. As a child, there’s a glow on your face, there’s a smile on your lips, and even your cries look cute (mostly). A child lives in constant awe, taking in the grandeur of life. He or she has no plans of the future or any guilt of the past. Just living in the present moment. As you grow older though, each passing day breaks a bit more of you. You change, you become lonelier, a little more negative, a wee more tired.
Even if we want it’s not possible to forever remain a child though. Because the second thing we are born with comes in between our resolve to live in the present moment and actually doing so. You want to be childlike, to be positive and adventurous. You don’t want the emotions of jealousy, negativity or contempt. You want to drop your baggage, you don’t want to worry about the future, but, one thought and whoosh… all beauty disappears like sunlight after dusk. This second aspect of our life is the albatross around our neck. And, in case you haven’t guessed it already, I’m referring to ‘the ‘mind’. Each one of us is born with a mind. An ever-talkative mind. Motormouth.
Pay attention and you’ll discover that it just doesn’t shut up. So long as you want the first gift (life), you have to put up with the second one (the mind) too. As John Milton wrote in Paradise Lost:
“The mind is its own place, and in it self
Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.”
If you want to experiment then just try and sit alone in peace, in silence and you’ll find that thoughts come and attack you from all directions. Mostly negative, worrying and depressing thoughts. Good thoughts are far and few in between like rain in the winter. But do you know what the pinnacle of mindfulness is? It is to live with the wisdom that thoughts are empty. They have no meaning on their own. That, they are devoid of any essence whatsoever. Don’t let them fool you. It’s like a TV, you keep flicking channels and something or the other is going on on every channel. That’s how the mind is. You don’t have to watch those channels.
This ability to not watch or to ignore your thoughts comes from mindfulness and mindfulness, ironically, in turn, is gained by watching your thoughts in the first place. There is, however, a difference between watching your thoughts as an independent observer (mindful) versus pursuing them. Once you master the art of mindfulness, you acquire extraordinary control over your mind. You realize that you don’t have to listen to its incessant blabbering, that you are not obliged to respond to its meaningless chatter. That holding long conversations in your head with a noisy mind is a pointless and unnecessary exercise. To quote Michael A Singer from The Untethered Soul:
Your thoughts have far less impact on this world than you would like to think. If you’re willing to be objective and watch all your thoughts, you will see that the vast majority of them have no relevance. They have no effect on anything or anybody, except you. They are simply making you feel better or worse about what is going on now, what has gone on in the past, or what might go on in the future. If you spend your time hoping that it doesn’t rain tomorrow, you are wasting your time. Your thoughts don’t change the rain. You will someday come to see that there is no use for that incessant internal chatter, and there is no reason to constantly attempt to figure everything out. Eventually you will see that the real cause of problems is not life itself. It’s the commotion the mind makes about life that really causes problems.
Ever seen a young child play with a toy? They constantly make a commentary while playing. They talk to the figurines. They express a range of feelings and show a whole heap of emotions toward their toys as if the toys are living entities. The chatter of the mind is about as meaningful as the narrative of a toddler. This understanding is the first step to calming your mind. Meditation is not about understanding the mind. There’s nothing to understand there. Instead, it is to watch your mind so you may learn to ignore or channelize it at your will.
Someone emailed me a beautiful joke the other day. First narrated by the brilliant Osho, I’m paraphrasing it for you.
An eminent scientist wanted to buy a gift for his young son.
“Not toys,” he said to the shopkeeper, “show me something intellectual for my 6-yr old.”
The shopkeeper went around and brought a jigsaw puzzle that read For ages 3 and up.
“This is going to be too easy,” the father scoffed. “He’s a scientist’s son. Get me something more difficult.”
“Trust me, Sir,” the vendor said. “This is the hardest puzzle out there. Even you can’t solve it.”
Moved by the challenge, the scientist opened the box and immediately began solving the puzzle. Much to his own amazement, even half an hour later, he couldn’t put it together.
“I don’t understand,” he said scratching his head. “What the hell is this puzzle?”
“Take it easy, Sir,” the shopkeeper replied calmly. “It can’t be solved. It can’t be understood. This is the puzzle of life.”
As there’s nothing to understand about a flowing river, or a cool breeze to experience its beauty, there’s nothing to figure out about life to revel in the marvel it is. Understanding requires the interference of the conscious mind. And peace, let me tell you, is not possible in the presence of such interference. Peace is to be here now, in the present moment. Without judgments.
Let’s just be and delight in the gift of life rather than trying to figure it out. If at all, the only thing worth understanding is that all understanding is worthless at some point. Like a toddler’s toy, life too is an object of play. Don’t take it too seriously.
Be grateful for the gifts and live like you love life.