“How am I to transform? I see the truth – at least, I see something in it – that a change, a transformation, must begin at a level that the mind, as the conscious or the unconscious, cannot reach, because my consciousness as a whole is conditioned.” ~ Jiddu Krishnamurti
Inspired by a few Earth Day initiatives, I once started this project of reducing tissue consumption, simply because I have done plastic on daily basis for a few years now. Reminded of a TED Talk by Joe Smith (“How to use one paper towel”), which I have been practising ever since I watched the talk, it seems to be interesting to extend the practice to other types of tissue and paper.
So the mind began with trying to exactly measure the current tissue consumption, observing the process to find any non-value added use of tissue, and then trying to measure the right quantity that is necessary for each activity. Complicated, that is just how the thinking mind is, as it always runs with assumptions and frameworks. In this case, the mind assumed that there must be a certain perfect formula just like the one for paper towel and it operated under continuous improvement based framework.
It did not get me anywhere.
Until I noticed that as I observed myself taking any tissue or paper towel, the amount that I threw away after use was noticeably less than when I took the paper in a rush or absent mindedly. After a while, I decided to stop trying to figure the perfect practice. This self observation, which is actually one of mindfulness qualities, is sufficient in reducing waste.
“We’re always fixing things, aren’t we? It never strikes us that things don’t need to be fixed. They really don’t. This is a great illumination. They need to be understood. If you understood them, they’d change.” ~ Anthony de Mello
Then I went for one week mindfulness retreat in this really cool facility that allows for no unorganic waste to be left behind in the compound. If we produce ANY unorganic waste, we have to bring them home. And yes, this includes any plastic wraps, bottle, tissue and paper towels.
So I went there with a few big waste plastic bag ready, thinking that no way I could abruptly adopt a lifestyle with so little one-time use things the way it used to be decades ago. Also, retreat is for the so-called “real” practice, I did not wish to trouble myself with any inconveniences that would deter my practice. In other words, I was ready to litter.
Astoundingly, I went home with barely a quarter of small waste plastic bag filled in, and it was not inconvenient, nor did it feel primitive at all. In fact, the lifestyle felt no less natural than breathing when we practice mindfulness in each step, each movement, each breath, in every single task, no matter how simple or unimportant or mundane the task may seem to be. It appears to be easily translated into very little waste.
Since this was so easy, I was easily convinced that I could be just a good friend to the earth as I had been from then on, only to find that being at home, my trash bin quickly fills and I empty my box of tissue just as quickly. How so?
One main variable was the availability of things that could easily turn into waste. This is perhaps one of the few occasions where we find scarcity highly beneficial. The Retreat centre simply did not use nor provide anything that is of single use or non-recyclable. While I have quite a few in my bag, the fact that it was not readily available simplifies our struggle to use less, and because we were mindful, it was effortless not to complain as we easily turned to what is available.
Then, there was hardly any trash bins in the compound that we do not get to see anyone putting anything into trash bins and I recognize the use of clothes instead of tissues every now and then. The only two trash bins within sight are almost empty throughout. Given that human brain is designed to mirror our environment, we tend to behave the way others do. As individuals, each of us endlessly copies and reinforces our behaviours to one another.
In this case, it is easy to reduce our consumption when everyone else does. Removed from such environment, we have to perpetually battle our nature to mimic those around us.
Above all that, most essential is the fact that we were all there to practice mindfulness, being aware of our actions and thoughts from moment to moment. If being Mindful on some trivial moments is already beneficial in reducing tissue consumption without any other active effort, the same applies on a bigger scale during moment to moment mindfulness.
Now imagine applying this to more people working together in an organisation set-up, that is, mindful people working together in a mindful way, with a few mindful ‘conditioning’. CSR would no longer be in constant conflict with shareholders interests. Green marketing would not be a me-too movement under social pressure, but an automatic gesture as a result of Mindful thinking behind every action. We all would have less recycling to do because each of us optimize our consumption and thus the most important link of the reduce-reuse-recycle happens most of the time. The remaining resources, or money, can be allocated for many other things. If people end up using less of our products, they will have more money for the extra frills and services, providing we know what to offer and why we offer them. Everyone will end up happier.
How do we make that happen? Nothing sophisticated, one Mindful breath at a time, one Mindful action at a time, and one Mindful conversation at a time.
That is all it takes, no more, no less.
“I am done with great things and big plans, great institutions and big successes. I am for those tiny, invisible loving human forces that work from individual to individual, creeping through the crannies of the world like so many rootlets, or like the capillary oozing of water, yet which, if given time, will rend the hardest monuments of human pride.”
“Depression is a common illness worldwide, with an estimated 350 million people affected.” ~ World Health Organization Fact Sheet, April 2016
Over the years, studies have been conducted over benefits of meditation and how it works. Most often cited benefits are related to the areas of stress management, self control and concentration. There is an article in Forbes by Alice Walton (2015), which neatly summarized various distinct researches on how meditation affects our brain. There listed a few interesting conclusions from the studies. Meditation was said to help preserve the aging brain, has effects rival antidepressants for depression, decrease volume of brain cells known to be responsible for fear, anxiety and stress, can help with addiction, and it helps kids in school.
These well meaning publications benefit many by raising their awareness and interests in the practice. But as wisely concluded in the article, meditation is not panacea.
This is an important statement for two main reasons.
One of the reasons being, meditation is a long journey. It is not something that we practice overnight and then it washes all our stresses away. In the world where people expect everything to be straight forward and instant, this can be disappointing. Then, all the appealing benefits are not the utmost outcome of meditation. While it is a simple practice, how it works is never that straight forward.
It is perhaps acceptable to assume that most people relate the word meditate to an image of someone sitting crossed legged with eyes closed in deep concentration. This image is often used to represent peace and calm. So much so that recently I was informed of a newly open premium resort and spa with cozy meditation room as part of the facility. There was a person sitting crossed legged depicted in their communication materials. In other words, peace and calm equals meditation equals sitting cross legged.
Meanwhile, the same practice has also been introduced into corporations as an aid to perform your duties more efficiently with less stress, perhaps your key to success. Busy and ambitious corporate world, peace and relaxing calm of resort and spa, seemingly rather on one end to another of a spectrum, both claim to practice and benefit from meditation. Can it be so? Yes, perhaps. Maybe not.
The thing is, meditation has become a word very loosely applied everywhere. The meditation practice a hermit does in the Himalayan mountains can be very much different from the short session offered in a cozy set up with soft comfortable cushion, soothing smell of incense and calming music in the background. The well intended spirit of bringing the practice into daily life, or the so-called “off the cushion” practice, has turned almost literally everything into meditation. While it truly is, and we shall talk a bit more on this some other time, the idea can be a little confusing.
So what IS meditation? One of the most amusing questions that not only a few people ask when I told them I just returned from one week meditation retreat (or that I practice Yoga) is – “SO, you can levitate?” What and how exactly I was expected to respond is still a mystery to me. Maybe I should seriously confirm so and see what happens.
“I have been a seeker and I still am, but I stopped asking the books and the stars. I started listening to the teaching of my Soul.” ~ Rumi
This is how I would define meditation, regardless of the actual actions that are referred to as meditation; the art of listening to ourselves, to the incessant chatter in our heads, drowning waves of emotions and somewhere some time, the peaceful silence within. Being able to listen to ourselves is a useful skill, from which we would understand what is happening within this existence we casually refer to as ourselves.
“Meditation is putting aside altogether everything that man has conceived of himself and the world.” ~ Jiddu Krishnamurti
In listening to myself, I discovered that everything I see, I see it through frames. These frames were planted in our minds through our ability to perceive and remember. All our previous experiences, habits and norms imposed on us, all these forms solid frames. Trouble is, more often than not, the lenses were either distorted or unclean so we do not see things the way they are. And that includes the way we see others and ourselves. How often do we take ourselves as the wrecked person inside our heads, which we relentlessly try to get rid of? Are we really all that noise in our heads? Or are we really the exterior that we see, nurture and entertain all the time? What about the idea that we are neither?
“Knowing how to be solitary is central to the art of loving. When we can be alone, we can be with others without using them as a means of escape.” ~ Bell Hooks
Habits are usually acted upon without us being aware that we are doing it. It becomes natural and it has become natural for us to distract ourselves all the time. Our gadgets and other electronic devices certainly play a big part in this habit. What happen when we disconnect ourselves from everything and everyone to simply be with ourselves? We start listening to the voices within and learn to be in peace with it. This is the first step in alleviating ourselves from the subtle constant unease of wanting to be anywhere but here, to be with anyone else but oneself. We learn to be content and cease looking outwards to escape from our very selves, from whatever is at any given moment.
There is a saying that I really like:
“You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day, unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.” ~ old Zen saying
Seriously, 20 minutes? Surely, in the beginning it can be very challenging to this mind to sit still with something as boring as breaths. A widely used term to describe this restless nature of mind is ‘monkey mind’, indicating how the mind incessantly jumps from one thing to another, all the time. An old friend of mine prefers to see it as puppies instead of monkey. With no particular reasons, I am with him. It is easier to see the mind as restless puppies (than monkey), which just need a bit of watching until they get tired and then decide to rest.
That is exactly why the Zen saying proposed an hour if we are too busy. The busier we are, the more excited the mind become, the more restless the puppies are. It would take longer for the mind to finally give it a rest and begin to settle into the moment. As the mind settles, perhaps, we would stumble into something grander than the mundane, something unknown to this busy limited mind. Otherwise, it is a beautiful practice nonetheless.
A pleasant walk, a journey home….
The birds have vanished down the sky. Now the last cloud drains away We sit together, the mountain and I, Until only the mountain remains.
Orang-orang yang berlatih adalah mereka yang mengamati segala yang dihadirkan kepada mereka, mengalami seapa adanya dengan jiwa dan raganya, dan senantiasa mengasah bukan untuk menjadi lebih, namun untuk kian sejati.
Orang-orang yang berlatih berupaya tanpa mengharuskan, berserah tanpa bermalasan. Orang-orang yang berlatih terus mencoba, tanpa coba-coba. Mereka merayakan kebelumannya dengan terus berlatih, bukan karena harus, namun karena inilah jalan pulang.
Orang-orang ini berlatih untuk mencoba rutin duduk diam untuk masuk ke dalam diri di setiap harinya. Mereka duduk diam untuk duduk diam, tidak bertujuan, namun masuk ke dalam perjalanan duduk diam itu sendiri. Tidak jengah akan pikiran yang senantiasa hadir ketika berdiam, dan tidak terganggu ketika merasakan yang lain yang mungkin tampak tidak sebaik dari yang sebelumnya.
Orang orang ini berlatih untuk hadir sehadir-hadirnya di setiap momen. Inilah ilmu, inilah mengalami, inilah pintu untuk berbagi. Hadir sepenuhnya mengasah empati, hadir sepenuhnya agar bisa menjadi pintu anugerah bagi yang lain, hadir sepenuhnya untuk bisa masuk ke pintu anugerah yang dibuka oleh yang lain.
Orang-orang ini berlatih untuk memekarkan emosinya dalam diri, agar diterima seapa-adanya, agar bisa selesai, agar senantiasa sadar. Semua emosi adalah pengingat, semua emosi adalah guru, dan sebaik-baiknya ilmu adalah dimekarkan untuk diterima sedalam-dalamnya.
Orang-orang ini berlatih untuk hanya sedikit terhenyak ketika dukacita datang, dan hanya sedikit terpana ketika sukacita datang. Mereka melihat keduanya sama, karena percaya bahwa semuanya baik, semuanya membaikkan.
Orang-orang yang berlatih mencoba melihat tanpa menjadi yang melihat, mencoba berpikir tanpa menjadi si pemikir, dan mencoba bertindak sebagai yang melalukan, bukan yang melakukan. Semuanya semata-mata untuk meniadakan ego. Dan mereka sadar inilah perjalanan yang tak pernah selesai karena ego berlapis-lapis dan hanya selesai ketika izin itu dianugerahkan. Dan sekali lagi, dijalani karena inilah jalan kembali.
Orang-orang yang berlatih mencoba untuk secara sadar menggunakan intelektualisme setelah sebelumnya mengkokohkan spiritualisme. Menggunakan non-metoda sebagai dasar metoda. Dengan kata lain, mereka menjalani subyektifitas, spontanitas, nurani, kepasifan, sebelum menyelenggarakan obyektifitas, sistematis, nalar, dan keaktifan.
Orang-orang yang berlatih senantiasa mengingatkan dirinya mereka selalu pemula, semuanya selalu baru, semua yang sudah terjadi sudah selesai, semua yang akan datang belum dan belum tentu terjadi. Belajar menjadi keniscayaan, berbagi menjadi cara belajar terbaik.
Orang-orang yang berlatih senantiasa menjalin dengan segala. Nyaman bertemu dengan teman kembali untuk berbagi kearifan dan kegalauan, dan nyaman dengan mereka yang belum ingin pulang, serta nyaman ketika menapaki kepulangan sendiri.
In the early days of my yoga asana (pose) practice, I attended one to two classes every other day. However, despite this Yoga enthusiasm, I did not practice at home.
Not at all.
Then I could have said that it was because I was still such a beginner that I did not know how to do it without instructions, and I thought that was the reason. But later I reckoned that I was actually in love with “yoga classes”, and not only “yoga” per se because amusingly, simply being in the class suffices for exhilarating joy. Something about these classes turned something on, and so I began to reflect.
Some people, if not most, go through their days with companies. I suppose that is why humans are recognised as social beings. So they have to have someone accompanying them when they go for lunch, movies, shopping, and – going to Yoga classes, especially if you are new to the practice, or to the community. Guess what, I am exactly not that kind of person, which does not mean I do not enjoy company. There are just things that I can do just fine, if not better, without company. Attending yoga classes is one of them.
When I first started attending the classes, by myself, I did not know anyone in the class, I did not know the teacher, and so I relaxed into being myself. It felt really good.
Photo by Melissa Mai at Pixbay
There is a story by Kahlil Gibran about a young man in an insane asylum that stands out from other inmates because he behaves normally. When asked why he was in the asylum, he spoke of how his father wanted him to be a brilliant lawyer like himself, his uncle hoped he would follow him by owning a large emporium, his mother wanted him to be like her beloved father, his sister set her husband before him as an example of the successful man, his brother tried to train him up to be a fine athlete like himself. The young man decided to enter the asylum because there at least, he can be himself.
I do not think this story only talks about family’s expectation. Rather, it is about man’s expectation towards one another, the way we human expect from one another of things we think is right, pleasant and good. Gibran said it in profound truth, “None of them looked at me as one should look at a man, but as if they were looking in a mirror.” I am grateful to find that I only had to go to yoga class to be myself instead of an insane asylum.
So there I was, enjoying myself with every pose that I was supposed to do, utterly carefree of what other people are doing nor did I care whether they care how I performed the poses. I was a beginner, and it is good to be stupid and carefree about it. This was until people who regularly attend the classes started noticing me as another regular and teachers began spotting my presence too. That marked the end of my invisibility that has made the sessions so enjoyable. While it is enjoyable knowing these people and making friends with some of them, I sometimes miss this anonymity. It is not that now I care how others are doing in the class nor do I care whether they care how I am doing, being invisible just feels good in a different way. Being comfortable with looking silly is very peaceful.
I wish it was as easy to turn any place into an Asylum.