May 29, 2011

Diamonds are forever. NOT: Part 2

John Keats wrote to Fanny Brawne in one of his hundreds of letters to her:

"My love has made me selfish. I cannot exist without you — I am forgetful of every thing but seeing you again — my Life seems to stop there — I see no further. You have absorb'd me. I have a sensation at the present moment as though I was dissolving — I should be exquisitely miserable without the hope of soon seeing you. [...] I have been astonished that Men could die Martyrs for religion — I have shudder'd at it — I shudder no more — I could be martyr'd for my Religion — Love is my religion — I could die for that — I could die for you."

To be honest, that is a little mushy for me.

Say that to a girl today, and a 100 carat diamond couldn't bring her back.

But, I think it illustrates the spirit of old-fashioned love.
Not Keats' love. Fanny's love.

Keats wasn't a good investment, by today's standards. An insurance policy for the future that covered virtually nothing.

But Fanny Brawne was his fiancé even though he had nothing to offer her. A struggling poet is bad enough in the 21st century, imagine what it must've been like in 1819.
And when he died, she mourned him for six years.

And I'm pretty sure he didn't give her a diamond ring.

The truth is, love is the only insurance you need. In 1819 and now.

I know that sounds horrifically cheesy but let me explain.

Michelle Robinson fell for Barack Obama when he had just finished his first year at Harvard Law and was a 'summer associate' at Sidley Austin. She had been assigned to act as his 'mentor'. To a successful, financially ambitious, hot-shot lawyer -I bet he wasn't much of an insurance policy. But after dating for three years, they got hitched in 1992.

In 2006, Michelle Obama said, "Barack didn't pledge riches, only a life that would be interesting. On that promise, he delivered."

She can probably buy any diamond ring she sets her eyes on now.

Closer home, I found a de-glamorized, quintessential representation of old fashioned love, if there ever was one.

Sudha Kulkarni was an intrepid, well educated, intelligent woman working with Telco. She fell for a research assistant, who dreamt of being a politician in a communist party and opening an orphanage. Through their courtship, she earned more than him and would pay the bill every time they went out. Their total wedding expenses were about Rs. 800 ($17) of which Sudha contributed half. Three years later, Narayan Murthy wanted to start Infosys. He had a vision and no money. Sudha lent him Rs. 10000 that she had saved for a rainy day and gave him a three year 'sabbatical leave'.

Narayan Murthy, could have been wearing a board around his neck, saying:

'Stay away. I'm a bad investment. An insurance policy that guzzles down monthly premiums and pays out nothing.' 

When he proposed to her, he said:

'I am 54 tall.
I come from a lower middle class family.
I can never become rich in my life and I can never give you any riches.
You are beautiful, bright, and intelligent and you can get anyone you want.
But will you marry me? '
And you thought John Keats was scary?!?!

For the uninitiated, Narayana Murthy is a billionaire today.
That's all you need to know in the context of this post.

What if Sudha would've held out for a guy who'd have bought her a diamond ring?
If she was the kind of girl that cared about those things, she'd be kicking herself today.

Not everyone has this rags to riches story, I'll admit.
But I'm willing to bet that those who take a chance on love, without insurance, end up happy anyway. No matter what the stupid DeBeers commercial tells me.


What kind of ring do I want for my engagement?
Considering the fact that I have freakishly manly hands, I'm thinking of asking for an engagement toe-ring.

Diamonds are forever. NOT: Part 1

So how many of you are proud of our generation?
Proud of the education we have been given, the structure of thinking this has stimulated?
The level of awareness, understanding of life and logical stream of thought we have all been endowed with?

I'm going to blow this belief into smithereens.
Smithereens, I tell you. Smithereens.

I like saying 'smithereens' and following up with an evil laugh and imagining loud thunder in the background.

That's what happened to me a few months ago.
My belief blew to smithereens.

I see a new trend emerging. Okay maybe it's not new, but it's new for me, because I just noticed it. With a whole bunch of people my age getting married, I'm constantly being bombarded with pictures of diamond encrusted engagement rings. In emails, on facebook. They are EVERYwhere.

Talking to an old high school friend, a prospective bride, is the same as reading 'Diamonds for Dummies'. Either that, or I can't really hear her over the clinking and clanking of the jewellery shop she seems to be wearing for our coffee date at the mall.

So, it got me thinking.

What's the BIG DEAL about diamonds and engagement?

I know diamonds are pretty, but honestly, (and I'm really NOT lying here) I like the other stones just as much. They're nice and colorful. The blue sapphire sends my heart racing just as much as the deep green of the emerald.

And isn't RED the color of L-uuuu-hhhh-ve.
Shouldn't engagement rings be ruby encrusted?

So as usual, I began painstaking and elaborate research into the origins of the allure of the diamond to women-kind.

I got lame explanations:

When a woman wears a diamond, she wears a link to ancient history, a valuable partnership with the miners who toil night and day to come up with a diamond harvest, a “cutting-edge” relationship with expert cutters who treat their trade with reverence and an investment connection with reputable retailers.

Yea right. So when you're giving your fiancé a diamond ring you sold your house for, she's thinking about the poor guy who lost his eyes cutting and polishing the diamond.
Call me an idiot, but I think I'd have a problem with that.

A woman loves diamond engagement rings because it symbolizes an endless and indestructible commitment. It is one reason why it remains to be a popular symbol for an engagement.

I don't want to be a party pooper, but you need to ask Eva Longoria about the truth of that statement. She wore a wedding ring which featured an impressive two rows of 80 brilliant-cut diamonds and 27 square-cut diamonds, complete with a romantic French inscription on the inside. That symbol of endless and indestructible commitment didn't stop Tony Parker from straying.

I could go on, but I couldn't be bothered. As usual, I have a theory of my own.

A long, long time ago when scientists were coming up with new inventions- color televisions, radios, automobiles, and measuring equipment like the weighing scale and the thermometer- they realized they've got nothing to measure the love in a man's heart.

So they convened a convention in an underground laboratory somewhere in Siberia and worked day and night to come up with a gauge to measure love. They tried and tried but failed over and over again. Finally, baffled, beleaguered and  defeated they declared that:

'the size of the diamond on the engagement ring is directly proportional to the amount of love in a man's heart.'

If you skipped the last two paragraphs, after 'theory of my own', I don't blame you. I would've too, if I didn't write them myself.

But this theory explains a lot. When you ask the beaming bride-to-be why she chose that diamond ring, she gushes, blushes and insists:

'He surprised me, honest!'   or
'This one was the prettiest there!'   or
'He wanted to get the biggest one there!' 

Another theory, (this one is not mine, so you can read it) is this:

Women love diamonds because of their exorbitant value. This may sound crude, but psychologically and honestly speaking, cost somehow can compare to the value-added component in a love affair.

Can you truly blame a woman for cherishing the diamond not only for its beauty but also for its value? It’s her pride and joy and it's an insurance policy for the future.

This makes a little sense.
I guess.

Diamonds are a status symbol. That I cannot deny.
A sort of rite of passage.
And status symbols give joy. And pride.
And the fact that it's so expensive, it serves as an insurance policy that says he can afford you.

So basically by asking for a diamond engagement ring, the girl is saying:

I care about what the people watching us think. I care about how much you earn. I care about how much everyone thinks you earn. I care that everyone knows how much you earn.

When all she should technically be saying is:

I care about you. 

And by giving a diamond engagement ring, the boy is saying:

I care that you care about what the people watching us think. I care that you care about how much I earn. I care that everyone knows how much I earn.

I would be as critical of the men as well, but I'm not sure they really get it.
I think they just buy the diamond because it clinches the deal, it guarantees  a 'yes'.

Sad but true.

And you know the punch line in this joke of a "tradition"?

In the years before and during the Great depression, DeBeers experienced a sharp drop in diamond sales. So it launched an aggressive advertising campaign to pin a social status to the stone, getting Hollywood scripts to include scenes of jewellery shopping.

Yup, when that angelic blonde actress of yesteryear would look at a diamond and exclaim in joy and dazzle us with her beautiful smile and throw herself in a loving embrace, DeBeers had paid for the scene to be squeezed in. Little by little, the diamond began being injected into our life as an indispensible part of courtship and marriage. Then, a female copywriter, Frances Gerety, (who never got married, ironically) conceived the slogan 'A diamond is forever' and that was that. And love began being measured in carats. And, apparently, is still being measured in carats.

What was that you were saying about our generation?!?
Logical thinking? Understanding of life?

Smithereens, I tell you. Smithereens.


This is NOT over. There's more.

May 27, 2011

Beauty is Evil

The scene:

It's one of those office parties in some fancy hall of some fancy hotel. Everyone is dressed to impress. Tuxedos, long dressing gowns. Lounge music in the background. Soft conversation about the state of the economy, the social security systems of third world countries, the most recent book that says that the right brain is going to take over the world.

It's by Daniel Pink, by the way. And I love it. By far the only non-fiction book that was interesting enough for me to get past the first 3 pages, to reading the whole thing.

You can hear the clinking of champagne glasses. And you can see the flashes of the white jackets and gloves of the waiters weaving through the crowd, offering hors d'oeuvres. Everyone looks like they have stepped off the latest Vogue cover.

I'm also there. Making small talk about how I can't decide which is better: the asparagus goat cheese bruschetta or the pear ricotta crostini.
Yes. I'm a vegetarian.
I'm also contemplating another drink, so I glance at the bar, to make sure my boss isn't there. Don't want to answer questions about the report that was due last week.

There, at the bar, stands a guy. A Greek God. Sharp angular face, soft brown eyes. Glorious hair. Dressed like a prince. Gracefully leaning against the counter.

In an unfortunate accident, instead of finding my boss, my eyes meet his. He shoots me a smile.

I use my peripheral vision to make sure a supermodel isn't around.

And then I do this.

Jarvis, are you there? (think Iron Man, I)
- At your service, Ma'am.
Engage Heads Up Display.
- Check.
Import all preferences from home interface.
-Will do, Ma'am.
All right, what do you say?
- We're online and ready.
Do a check on control surfaces.

My facial muscles tense up one by one, to make sure no expressions divulge signs of interest.
My eyes turn into cold stone.
My muscle blades, check themselves one by one to make sure my body language doesn't slip up and signal any interest.
And, there's hard core rock music playing in the background.

I look away. And make sure not to make eye contact again. If I'm directly approached, I talk politely and pounce at the first chance to get away. If the Greek God decides to join a conversation that my circle is having, I excuse myself and run to the powder room. And stay there till the end of the night.

And its not because I'm playing hard to get.

My brain is doing this:
'Okay, he is good looking. Too good looking. He probably just smiled at you because you had coriander stuck in your teeth. It's a pity smile. Or worse, it's a ravenous one. He's not a nice person. I can just see Don Juan in his eyes. Stay away. You're probably like the 47th girl he smiled at in the last 47 minutes. He's a smooth operator. He's a jerk. You don't want him lurking around you. Oh NO. He's coming closer. Don't let him get in the six meter radius. If he enters that space, you're dead meat. Move, move, move. Get out, NOW! If you want to live, GET OUT NOW!!!Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh'

Smooth operator: My brain is vintage.
Six meter radius: My brain is precise and accurate.
If you want to live: My brain is prone to exaggeration.

Now, before the psychiatrist in you starts the diagnosis, I haven't suffered a heartbreak at the hands of a Greek God before. The Greek Gods that I didn't meet in the above setting, actually, turned out to be quite nice.

And no, I don't have low self-esteem. I know I'm quite average looking, I have nice hair and I'm charming and funny.

Don't you roll your eyes at me. You're the one who asked for proof of high-self esteem. I didn't start this. You asked for it.

The truth is I'm a big opponent of the ' to be beautiful is to be blessed' school of thought. I support the 'pretty people are evil' branch. I'm quite disgusted of society's obsession with designer clothing clad, super skinny, make-up laden, air brushed and photo-shopped version of beauty. Or, as in this case, sharp angular featured, doe eyed, tall, air-brushed bodied, designer suit clad version.

I blame it on high school.

High school was an ugly place for most people. I gather this from my extensive research in societal affairs, focusing on ground-breaking and influential movies like 'Never Been Kissed', 'She's all that' and '17 again'.

And, of course, my own experience.

My personal high school history isn't as traumatic as the kids in the movies above. But it's shaped my opinions into what they are.

I was a part of the popular group of pretty girls, but in the lowest rung of the hierarchy.
(We didn't have cheerleaders at our high school. But in the movie context, I was a part of the group of popular cheerleaders.
Only, I was more the side-kick. Not the centre of attention).

So I got more attention than the other girls on the outside, but of the attention that came our way, I got the leftovers.

I guess the braces didn't help. Nor did the fact that I didn't holiday in the States or in London. The deal breaker was probably the fact that I got good grades.

Good grades, where I come from, came with the 'nerd' tag. The 'nerd' tag was glued onto your forehead with superglue. And unless you looked like Cindy Crawford (maybe not even then) no one, absolutely no one, had the clout to unglue it.

Anyway, I was happy with whatever I was getting. I never complained. 
I'm not sure I had a brain developed enough to complain.

But my sub-conscience was doing it's job. It was monitoring, scrutinizing and analyzing. It was forming the skeleton of what has now become the NEW me.
And what a great job, huh?
Ignore that. 

Then I got a little older. And the braces came off. And I got glistening pearly whites. And my skin cleared up. And I started getting more attention. By that time I was in college in India. With a new set of friends.
And a brand new brain, prepped up and ready for use.

I saw how the world made a distinction between pretty and not pretty. Cute and not cute. Beautiful and not beautiful. And its horrible.

How we automatically gravitate towards a cute baby but unintentionally sideline her less cute-r brother. He just stands there, wide-eyed, fiddling with a small piece of thread hanging from his baby sister's stroller.

Even between kids the same age, notice how the cute ones become so comfortable with the attention that they can converse confidently with any passer by. The less cute ones are the quiet kinds. Huddled into the corner- watching someone else hog all the attention.

And when they get a little older. It only gets worse. They're the ones who are called  on to present the bouquet to the chief guest at school functions. They are the ones who win the fancy dress competitions. They are the ones that get the free bar of chocolate because the lady at the supermarket counter can't stop squealing at how adorable they are.    

Stupid chocolate bar. They don't taste that good anyway. No wonder she gives them away for free.
Yea, I wasn't a cute kid.
How did you know?

This is where it all starts.

And you can't even make out when these kids join the race: designer clothes, make-up, anti-ageing lotions, anorexia and insecurities.

So I declared myself a 'beauty opponent' who subscribes to the view that beauty is evil. Beauty compensates for something that is lacking on the inside of the person.

No, I don't mean that a person with one kidney is more beautiful than a person with two.
Although, it might be true.
But you'll never know.
Unless you go around asking people how many kidneys they have.
Which would be a bit odd.

Before you point it out, I'll admit. I know the flaws with that view.

By this logic, anyone who is a nice person should be downright ugly. Mother Teresa and Princess Diana should look horrifying. And Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie should be the embodiment of Satan.

Let's just say it's a new school of thought, and hasn't quite perfected itself yet. We're working on it.

But the truth is this:
Anyone who will ever be important in your life, your parents, your friends or your husband will be the ones who won't be able to make out if you've had a haircut or if you've put on weight. They'll never know if you're wearing 'Prada' or it's cheaper cousin 'Prado'. They'll never love you because you're so perfect.

They'll love you because you sound like a toad when you sing; because you make corny jokes or funny faces; because when you fall from your chair at a restaurant, you're laughing so hard that you can't get back up for the next seven minutes.

They will love every glaring imperfection in you.

If you believe this, then I urge you to join the 'beauty is evil' movement.
We'll work out the kinks together.

And the next time you see a cute baby in her stroller and her older brother at the corner grocery store. Smile at the older brother. The dazzling shy smile you get in return will be well worth it.
I promise.

By the way. How many kidneys do you have?

May 25, 2011

My tryst with Masochistic Meditation: Vipassna, Part 3

So first let's turn our attention to the elephant in the room.
I love elephants by the way. They're my third favorite animal in the world.

It's no mean feat, to have completed the 10 day ordeal. The story in itself makes a great conversation starter.

Notice that I started off by counting the hardships of the meditation camp in part 1 of this post.

It’s a great ego trip and deeply satisfying for the latent narcissist in each of us.
You know.
The one we refuse to acknowledge.

At some point during the ten days, you will begin thinking. Thinking about anyone that ever doubted you, anyone that called you a weakling. That moron in kindergarten that shoved sand down your shirt. Or the jerk that made fun of your braces in high school. Could they ever, in a million years, do what you have done? They wouldn't last a day. Now you've showed them.

It will always be the cherry on your sundae, the cheese on your macaroni, the frosting on your cupcake, the gooey centre of your chocolate brownie.

Sorry, it's almost lunchtime.     

The second, most unexpected bonus I got from camp with was a fresh perspective about myself. I realized I was a work-in-progress. Not a fully functional, industry of 'perfection'. Who would have thought?

Don't answer that.

Other than the debilitating revelation that I was in fact a control freak, vipassna also tore my confidence in my adaptability to shreds.

I've never been the kind to complain about my physical surroundings. I was quite sure about that fact that it's always mind over matter for me. I've lived in rat-infested dorms and single handedly caught (in those humane traps, of course) a single mother rat and seven of her babies, who had housed themselves in an ancient air-conditioner that never worked . I have shared a bathroom with 13 girls. I have often picked a stray strand of hair out of the cafeteria food and gone on with my meal, without a trace of repulsion.

Well, what else do you do, when you have no other option?

Don't get me wrong. I'm big on personal hygiene. But I'm not finicky. Anyway, I thought I was a make-do-with-what-you-got sort of person.

The vipassna camp changed that forever.

I met two girls, tourists, who went on to become my friends.

Yes, we couldn't talk for ten days, but we managed to forge a bit of a friendship.

I know. Weird huh?
So here were two girls, from countries thousands of miles away. Where, when the temperature crossed 26 degrees Celsius, health warnings would be issued by the government. Where you would probably only see geckos in the zoo. Where mosquitoes seemed to be extinct.

And I observed the calm, nonchalant composure which they exuded. When I'd be gulping down breakfast and lunch, barely managing to avoid choking myself (so I could go take a nap), they'd be savoring the food, giving it the attention it deserved.
The food was good, if you were wondering.

When I was in my semi-conscious state on my bed after lunch, I'd see them wet their scarves and wrap them around their faces and with their plastic bottles full of water, they'd head out onto the neighboring sand dunes to explore the landscape.

When my misery and I, would be slumped on the ground, in the five minute breaks we would have between the four hours of meditation, they would be walking briskly, stretching, making me feel like an 80 year old.

I hated the fact that they seemed to be … enjoying…. this.
Okay. You know I didn’t hate it. I mean I envied it.

It's one thing to put up with something because of the lack of options, but its entirely different to enjoy the good things so much, that you don't notice the bad things.

That's a distinction that I had never made before. A distinction I had never thought to make before.

Although the very essence of vipassna is that I should be happy with the good, and ignore the bad without being attached to either. It really  drives the point home, when you see people doing it before your very eyes. It's the kind of inspiration you can go back to, every time you feel defeated.

So that really burst my bubble. I was introduced to some inadequacies in my demeanor. Which, hitherto was impeccable. 

That is officially the first time I have ever used the word 'hitherto' in my life. It feels a little surreal. I never thought the day would come.

Finally, the common thread that runs through your experiences throughout the ten days is the fact that you are alone, with no one but yourself. You are introduced to yourself. You see yourself as a third person, objectively.

No, I'm not hinting at the creepy football face friend,Wilson, that Tom Hanks had in 'Castaway'. Did you think about that too?
Or was it just me?

I realized I was a planner, deep down inside. Obviously, really really deep down. That’s what I did ALL day.

I planned, how much time I would have to nap. How much time that would leave me for food. What speed should I walk to my room to optimize the use of my limited free time. That's just the tip of the iceberg. I planned things I can't mention on this blog.

I realized I wasn't physically as tough as I thought I was.
I also realized that mentally, I was the Incredible Hulk.

Basically, I mean that you see your reactions in different circumstances, the good (sometimes), mostly the bad and the ugly. In the real world, the ugly times are precisely when we focus on others, trying to pin the blame on them. But here, there is no 'other'. You're to blame for what you're feeling.

That doesn't change everything. But it starts the ball rolling. And when the ball gets rolling, it could change a LOT.

That's a LOT to happen in just 10 days.

Okay, don't worry if you're confused. If I read the last two lines by themselves, I get dizzy.

The point is that the experience is very personal. Some people come away with absolutely no new information about themselves or their problems. While for others, this strenuous mental training changes their lives forever. You'll never know which one you are, until you take a shot at it.

What've you got to lose?

I thought I would end this post with that question. And I tried. I really did. But I failed. I have to end with a quote from a person with a PhD. I'm sorry. Don't read it if you don’t want to. But I have to do this. I won't be able to sleep if I don't.

Dr. Richard Davidson, whom I've quoted previously, also says:

Based on what we know about the plasticity of the brain, we can think of things like happiness and compassion as skills that are no different from learning to play a musical instrument, or training in golf or tennis. Happiness, like any skill, requires practice and time but because we know that the brain is built to change in response to mental training, it is possible to train a mind to be happy.

Ahh. Order in the world has been restored.
Now, I'm going to bed. In peace.

My tryst with Masochistic Meditation: Vipassna, Part 2

So here's a truth I didn't know about myself.

I'm a control freak.

If you ask anyone who has ever known me, they'll disagree. I may be narcissistic , stubborn or stupid. But I'm all for the 'live and let live' school of thought.

But it's true. I'm a control freak and so are you. And you, and you, and you.

Sorry. My imagination got the better of me.

The very fact that we want to control our surroundings and circumstances, makes us control freaks. So when we're in a good place in life, we want it to last forever. And we feel bad when it doesn't. And when things are rough, we want it all to go away. And we hate it when that doesn't happen.

Tap. Tap. That's the definition of control freak.

Yes, I agree. Being disappointed when things don't go our way, is a human tendency. It's natural. You don't do it on purpose. But, being a control freak is a human tendency too.

You don't see your cat complain about how he just can't catch a lucky break. Does your dog mope around when you take his favorite rubber slipper away from him and keep it out of his sight? He just moves onto the next best thing to chew on.

It's not just pets, before you jump to that verdict.

If you've ever watched a documentary on lions on any wildlife channel you'll know what I'm talking about.

The lioness has been hungry for 3 days. She absolutely needs to eat today. And she chances upon a deer cub. Or is that a baby deer? Whatever, that's not the point. She's hidden behind the grass, the deer's drinking water from the watering hole. She pounces, the baby deer runs. It's Bambi's day today. The lioness fails.

She stomps her foot on the ground in anger. She lets out a loud, heart piercing wail and begins weeping. Tears stream down her face and she looks to the heavens- pleading for food. Enough of testing God, now just please give me a break.

'Why God? Why me? Why do you always pick on me?' 

Yup. You're right. That's not typical lioness behavior. It's typical ME behavior. And I'm not even dying of hunger.

*knock on wood*

You know what the lioness does?

She lies down in the grass and purrs. Purrs for hours.

I don't have PhD quality proof here, but I think she's thinking 'this too shall pass'. Tomorrow is another day.

Now that's a NON control freak.
What's the opposite of a control freak, anyway? Liberation freak?

The higher your propensity to sulk, mope, pine and sigh - the deeper rooted is your controlling tendency.

By that benchmark, I'm the queen bee of control freaks.

And here's the bigger more baffling revelation. If we were to give up our cravings and aversions to good and bad circumstances, to honestly do it, we would attain that blissful state of eternal peace. Our eyes would radiate the same calm as Buddha.

It's that easy.


It's easy alright. Easy to say. Impossible to do.

So here's the meat of what vipassna teaches you:

Train your mind to see that every circumstance, whether good or bad, is impermanent. It stays till it has to and it will leave. That's the nature of nature. The day your mind sees this, it will stop attaching itself to circumstances. What's the point of attaching yourself to something that you know will go away? Right. And the day your mind sees that, is the day you will start chilling out Buddha style.

And how do you train your mind? By using the one thing it's the closest to. Your body. You voluntarily put your body through a series of good and bad sensations/feelings.

You sit still and observe the various sensations pulsing through your body every instant. Some feel oh-so-good. Like a tickly, tingly waves under your skin. And then you have cramps and body aches from sitting still for an hour. The bottom line is you don't react. You just observe each feeling. And when you do it long enough, you will realize these feelings change. The tingly feeling turns to prickly and then turns into something new or just dies down. The piercing pain turns into a throbbing pain and then your body's tranquilizers start setting in, and the pain eventually becomes bearable before it dies down.

It's obviously not magic. The more you do it, the more your brain will get it. The more your mind gets it, the more it will translate this new knowledge to everything around it.

So soon enough, you will enjoy the good times, rest during the bad times. You will get attached to neither. And you will be Mr./Ms. Cool. Forever.

Just make sure you practice non stop, for like 23.5 years.
More if you take breaks in between or cheat.
Less if you're totally honest and don't sleep or go to the bathroom.

What?! You didn't think there would be a catch?
If it would have been that easy, you'd think we'd have a few million more Buddhas in the world, no?

Richard Davidson, PhD (I am obsessed with PhD people, aren't I?), neuroscientist and professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who runs the Laboratory of Affective Neuroscience, went for a two week version of vipassna. And he said:

'Anyone who says meditation is relaxation doesn't know what they're talking about. It's like changing the course of a river.'

So while I change the course of the river, drop by drop, I figure I should focus on the smaller, less conspicuous lessons I took away from my 10 day torture.

And, it's on the basis of these smaller lessons, that I will recommend this 'masochistic meditation' camp to you.

So this is where I bid the arrogant, I-don't-need-no-vipassna, I'm- too-spiritual-for-this-junk, holier-than-thou type readers goodbye. Those who are the open-minded, brave, let's-give-it-a-shot, what've-I-got-to-lose types, follow me to part 3.

On a lighter note, considering my current fetish for quotes from people with PhDs, I'm thinking of getting one of those babies for myself. Then I can quote myself all the time. And no one will have the nerve to question me. I'll be God.

Nope. Vipassna does nothing for delusional disorder. Why do you ask?

My tryst with Masochistic Meditation: Vipassna, Part 1

I just read somewhere,

Being happy is another way of being wise.

A fortnight ago, I would have said 'uhhh… I know that!' and then quickly gone on to read something else, because I had no idea what it meant. I would have forgotten about it and life would have gone on.

I guess it took an agonizing, grueling and ego-shattering 10 days of masochistic meditation for me to really get the meaning of that statement. Now, the truth in it gives me goose bumps.

Yup. I went for the 10 day Vipassna meditation camp.
Yup, I didn't speak a word (including sign language) to anyone for ten days.
Yup, the last meal I had was at 11 am everyday, for ten days.
Yup, I sat in the meditation hall in excruciating pain for 11 hours, for ten days.
Yup, I lived in a brick, 11ftX6ft room in 45 degrees Celsius, with one ceiling fan, for ten days.

And, yes, I can't wait to do it again!

Okay before you shut this window, I'll admit, I thought about running away every one of the nine nights.

The tenth night, I knew I was leaving in the morning, so that doesn't count.

The truth is, they were probably ten of the most physically strenuous days of my life. Not that it was a mental cake walk.

The problem wasn't that a deafening gong woke me at 4 am, or that I couldn't scream for it to 'SHUT the h*ll up!'.  The problem wasn't that in the half dream like state of consciousness, sitting for two straight hours in the middle of the night felt like 4 inch nails being hammered into my back. The problem wasn't that even though my last meal was at 11 am the previous day, at the breakfast table I couldn't shove food down my throat fast enough to make a beeline to my room and catch a fifteen minute power nap.
No, I don't think sleep deprivation was the problem.
I didn't mind the three spiders (baby tarantulas, in my expert opinion) under the bathroom sink, with whom I had a silent agreement. I knew that it was in the interest of all four parties to honor the settlement to stay out of each other's way, during 6.30 to 7.30 am, when I had no choice but to use the bathroom. In return, I would give them fair warning and knock
on the door loudly for fifty three seconds before

Don't ask me why. The spiders wanted fifty three seconds. Nothing more, nothing less. I figured it must be a weird spider ritual.

I also had a fragile peace treaty with the two baby geckos that seemed to have leased out my Crocs (my footwear of choice) for the ten nights they were seemingly available. The understanding we had reached was that they were free to enter my shoe, when I was asleep at night. In the morning, at 4am sharp, I would point my flashlight at them and they would scamper out in peace and not return till I was asleep again that night.

I had also negotiated with the three million mosquitoes in my room that they were free to nibble at my feet and fingers. No trespassing on the face, though. Malaria ridden mosquitoes, were obviously banned from the room. We had a bit of trouble with a few rebels who decided to attack the delicate skin on my upper arm, but all in all, the arrangement was a success.

I was good at handling the heat. I had managed, somehow, to remember to bring an umbrella.

Okay, fine.
It was my mom's idea.

I vividly remember the dejection and gloom which walked me all the way to the room, at nine in the night, every night. Sore muscles, knees buckling under my own weight, I used to wonder everyday, if I'd reach my bed before or after I pass out. I also wondered, if I'd wake up the next morning.

But I always did. Without fail. I'm not quite sure how.
I guess the fact that the first sound you would hear was the chirping of the birds helped. It wasn't the abrasive babble of the city bird mafia fighting for turf. It was actual singing.

The fresh summer breeze that blows only for nocturnal animals who are awake at 4 am, helped too.
The rocky hills that surrounded us, almost protectively, definitely made it easier. The stray pup that always seemed to wait for me while I washed my plate after lunch made me smile everyday.

The fact that you were in the middle of nowhere, with no one but yourself was strangely comforting.

So the first lesson I learnt at the Vipassna meditation centre was this:

It's only in the midst of extreme hardships, that you experience the simplest pleasures. That's when you get to know what's right and beautiful in the world.

 What I didn't know (and I just found out a few minutes ago) was that the first three days of meditation was developing my mental balance. And its with this mental balance that I was developing a ballast that was keeping me stable under extreme conditions.

For those of you grinning smugly, yes. I do consider living with wildlife in my room, in 45 degrees Celsius, EXTREME conditions.

Anyway, I'm not the one who's saying this. Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and author of Coming to Our Senses (Hyperion, 2005) is saying it.

Got anymore questions?
Didn't think so.
Afraid of the PhD power, aren't ya?
I've done my research... on the research they've done. 

Part 2 coming up. Don't go anywhere.
Unless you have to.

Patience is for Sissies

So when I first thought about starting this blog, I thought I'd make it a weekly thing.

That way I won't be hard pressed for time. Any more frequent, and I'd be glued to the computer screen. Slaving away and making stuff up, just because I had to post something.

I also thought it would help the quality of my writing and allow me to research the claims I was making. It would make sure my work was thorough.

It turns out, I don't care about those things!

Research is for nerds.

There's an amazing thrill in making unsubstantiated claims with impunity. Refer to some research by some really smart people, once in awhile and you're set.

Turns out patience is overrated too.

And will-power? That's just lame.

So, I'm not sticking to my earlier commitment.

Some people might misconstrue this as being flaky. But the really really smart ones know that its actually for the greater good of mankind. Like I could be savings lives, for all you know.

By the way, I just realized that the plural of sissy isn't sissys. Its 'sissies'. MS Word said so.
You learn something new everyday.

May 23, 2011

Kings, Jacks and Noblemen: For the doubting Tom

Money and Happiness: We Do the Math

Experts agree that a lifetime spent chasing the almighty dollar rarely raises Subjective-Well-Being (SWB). Research by Ronald Inglehart, PhD, found that once middle-class comforts are in place, the link between the two "is surprisingly weak (indeed, virtually negligible)."

"The first 40 grand makes a dramatic difference, but after basic needs are met, the next 10 million does almost nothing."

"The jury's been in for a while," says R. Adam Engle, whose Mind and Life Institute sponsored the recent conference between the Dalai Lama and a group of top scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology on the subject of Buddhism and its relation to how the mind works. "We can't hang on to the idea that if we get more stuff we'll be happier."

Oh, you want more, do ya?
In his recent book, The Art of Happiness at Work, coauthored with the Dalai Lama, psychiatrist Howard Cutler, MD, reports three basic approaches to work, whatever the profession. "People tend to see work as a job, a career, or a calling," he tells me from his Phoenix office. In the job approach, work is seen as a means to an end (money), offering no other reward. Career-minded folk have a deeper personal investment in their profession, marking achievements not only through monetary gain but through advancement within their chosen field. Finally, those who view their work as a calling show passionate commitment to "work for its own sake," focusing as much on fulfillment—human relationships, how what they do affects the world—as on monetary gain.

In 1997 Amy Wrzesniewski, PhD, who is now an assistant professor of management and organizational behavior at New York University's Stern School of Business, coauthored an important study of people in various occupations, from so-called menial to high-level professional. The reported levels of SWB were consistent with the approach each individual took toward his or her work. Those subjects who felt it was a calling had "significantly higher" SWB than those who saw it as a job or a career.

And you know the best part? I found this article, after I finished Part 3 of this post. I feel vindicated.

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The Pious Hippie by Ms. Pious Hippie is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.