The Wandering Wondering Mind – Part 2

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In the preceding part, I have written about the dreadful thoughts and images that plague our minds and drive peace and harmony out of our lives. And more often than not, all our efforts to block these disturbances out are in vain. We may be able to distract ourselves temporarily but the death rattle continues to play in the background before resurfacing in full force. We need answers that we don’t get easily and may never find. We go into panic mode, hyperventilate and even think we’re going crazy because we have lost complete control of our minds and the situations it constructs.

I have also made an attempt to classify these turbulences into broad categories that are certainly relevant to me and hopefully something you can relate to as well. The only person in our control is ourselves and the only situations we can control are the ones that our mind creates and overemphasizes on. We must realize that anything else is beyond our control and while we hope for the best, we cannot expect things to turn out rosy

There may not be a magically effective way to calm our minds but small daily routines certainly help.

Be productive

Shutting our minds down can be infuriatingly difficult. However, if we keep ourselves busy and aligned with our short and long term goals, we’re more inclined to be creative and positive and less likely to entertain negative thoughts. We must invest our minds in activities that we are passionate about and bring us joy. It’s these things we are likely to do best and the subsequent results will have an uplifting impact of our minds

Meditate

While I still struggle with this even though I try it for only ten to fifteen minutes daily, meditating every day can have therapeutic effects on the mind and the body. I have been meditating for about seven months now and while my mind still wanders when I’m meditating and I still have my mind infuriate me, I am certainly calmer and more in control today than I was when I began. Considering that sages take decades to master the art of medication and attain enlightenment, I’m only just getting started. Having said that, the start has certainly been promising.

Use a positive chant

Telling ourselves that ‘we’re fine’, ‘life is good’ or ‘The Yankees will win the world series’ constantly will have long term positive effects on our minds and we will experience more stability within. Hearing a positively soothing voice is very effective. There is a reason to-be parents are asked to sing to and speak to their child while she is still in mummy’s tummy. We’re not very different as adults and when we don’t have an external voice that can do the sweet-talking for us, we need to do it for ourselves.

Exercise

Cardiovascular workouts and breathing routines help relieve us of stress and anxiety. Playing a sport that involves sweating (because you could very well start playing poker) or even strength training help release endorphins, which are natural pain killers that exist in our body and help reduce stress. If we engage in these activities consistently, our physical health improves as well, which is an essential collaborator to our mental state.

Write

Writing things down that bother us, allow us to clear a cluttered mind. Revisiting these thoughts at a later stage allow us to reflect upon and gain clarity on some of our confusion. Write about the things that work for you and repeat these habitually in your life. Over time these habits will allow us more mental stability.

Read

Reading books like ‘Thirteen Reasons Why’, ‘Before I Fall’, and ‘The Bell Jar’ are likely to be counterproductive, but reading motivating books like success stories and even ‘feel good’ novels help lift the mood and the mind. And you never know what evasive answers you may find on any given page.

Listen to music

If we’re frustrated or angry, listening to Megadeth or Black Sabbath may do us little good. However, we all have happy memories associated with some song or the other and listening to these during our melancholic existence can be very uplifting. The right music not only helps me form happy memories and calm my nerves but also helps me think of a positive future.

Pursue a hobby

If you have the love and the skill for something like playing a guitar, a racket sport, stand up comedy, or even making French fries, put it to use. Engaging in constructive activities that we enjoy is always a sure way to switch out negative thoughts. Not only do we have fun but we also improve our skills, and one never knows where that may lead us.

Keep a clean environment

I personally cannot stand clutter, whether it is inside my mind or in my surroundings. I tend to think better when I keep a clean environment and I strongly believe that the way we keep our surroundings is a reflection of our minds. For example, if our desk is cluttered, our room untidy, our beds unmade, it mirrors that state of our mind. Sometimes we need to jumpstart our brain into positive motion and making a concerted effort to maintain a clean and tidy environment can have that impact. Personally, I’ve noticed that I think better when I keep my environment clean.

Surround yourself with positive people

I cannot emphasize enough on how important this is. Surrounding ourselves with toxicity is a sure shot way to end up in a hole and remain in it. We love it when people lend an ear to listen to our problems, but ideally, we need to see if they offer solutions or just join us in the cribbing game and spread more negativity. Besides there are people that just seem upset with everything in life and constantly complain, demean, ignore, fight, and try to control us. Some of them could be family members and close friends who we cannot discard from our lives but we need to be aware of where we draw our lines for our own sanity. To counter these negative effects and also as a general practice we must make a conscious effort to surround ourselves with people that spread positivity, joy, and imbibe confidence in us.

Sleep well

We spend a third of our lives sleeping (some of us even spend a majority of our waking hours asleep). Sound sleep is as essential to our physical and mental health as any other form of fitness routine, dietary habits, and other good health practices. A lack of proper sleep can lead to a drop in performance, mental tiredness, anxiety, as well as other health-related problems. I have my phases of getting appropriate sleep versus not getting enough and I sense a marked difference in my mood, functioning, and mindset in each of these scenarios. If you’re struggling to get proper sleep, there are plenty of tips available online to help you sleep better.

Live in the present

A lot of our issues arise because we cannot get over the past or stop worrying about the future. We cannot alter one and cannot predict the other. All we can do is to use our failures and pain from the past to learn and grow and plan for the future. We can only do this by living in the present and using our time at hand to the best of our abilities to make our present productive.

Forgive

We hurt terribly from the actions and inactions of people, and find it difficult to forgive them for putting us through so much grief. However, we pine over these matters long after the situation has taken place, and extend our grieving with no end in sight. Yes, it does take time to heal but how are we helping ourselves by not making any effort to move on? Forgiving someone does not mean we accept the pain they have given us, but helps us heal faster. We tell ourselves that we are now in control of our situation and getting back on our feet and running is up to us.

Contribute

We need to understand that there are people in situations that are way worse than our own. Making a contribution in their lives not only adds perspective to ours but also makes us feel good about ourselves (release of dopamine – the ‘reward’ neurotransmitter). We could choose to help people in our circles or even volunteer for a good cause.

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So stop moping around and trying to solve every mystery in your life. Sometimes, we just need to focus on other matters and let bygones be bygones.

The Wandering Wondering Mind – Part 1

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Overthinking is a mental battle I have fought for as long as I can remember and no matter the decision arrived upon after this long drawn out struggle, there are always casualties. These casualties are usually ourselves and many a time people that are close to us. And by casualties I don’t mean being rushed through heavy traffic in an ambulance or even getting stuck in a critical care bed and having to deal with stories about family problems of all our visitors, but about the mental setback that this inexorable activity causes. A loss of peace of mind, lack of focus, loss of interest, irritability, inexplicable sadness, disturbed sleep patterns, extreme binging modes (or loss of appetite), and a general feeling of loss overpower us.

Whether it’s tough experiences from the past or a generally pessimistic attitude we may have developed, allowing our mind to constantly visit an occurrence, situation, or behavior, and analyze it over and over, grips our life with a sense of incompleteness and severe lack of clarity. We strive for answers, come up with many without any confidence in any, which leads us to favor the negative outcomes. And from experience, I can say that the turmoil that this causes in the mind is as unnerving as anything can be (Except when the Wi-Fi goes down because that has to be the epitome of deprivation and depression).

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Why did he behave in a peculiar manner the other day? Why does she always act aloof in every situation? Why was my research thesis rejected without an explanation? Why did Eddard Stark have to die in season 1 of Game of Thrones? Why do the Mumbai Indians make our blood pressure shoot through the roof during their consistently erratic seasons? What are companies looking for in job applicants? Why am I made to feel like an outcast? Why do the people I care about take me for granted and instead chase people that don’t really care about them? Why doesn’t she tell me what she thinks and feels openly and honestly? Why can’t people care more? Why do my plans always go bust? The ‘Why’, ‘What’, ‘Where’, ‘When’, ‘Who’ ‘Which’ and a gazillion other questions that plague our minds. Our mind is not built to handle unclear messages, unexpected circumstances, unanswered questions, and the mysteries surrounding relationships that we deem important. Sometimes my mind is so loud with uncertainties clanging away nightmarishly that I wish I could remove my mind from my head when needed, unlike an iPhone battery. If we think jail is a scary place, being trapped inside our own minds is hellish at best.

We can seek help from others, and the ones that truly care for us will certainly offer solutions with all earnestness, and good ones at that (Unless you ask your dog because then the solutions for everything would be to scratch your ear with your leg and rollover, which is a good way to lead life if you think about it). However, just like the relationship between any coach and student, the responsibility to believe and execute lies with the student. While most of us have external help, the real battle lies within, which we must face ourselves.

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While some mysteries in our lives may unravel quickly, some may plague us for a long time, and still, some others may never reveal themselves during the course of our lifetime. Here are some areas we need to think about, accept, and address to help understand some of these uncertainties.

Mirror mirror on the wall

We are an echo of our upbringing and the values that we grow up with are the values we look for in others. Now only if choosing friends and significant others was such a well thought out and transparent process. We form associations based on looks, a sense of humor, dancing skills, popularity, the ability to win hot dog eating contests and several other parameters that meet the eye in quick time. Even for those of us that take our time to get to know people better and are strictly selective in forging bonds, differences in one’s outlook towards life is likely to crop up in certain areas. We expect people to be who we perceive them as, which in many ways is a reflection of who we are. For instance, if we grew up in an environment where control was exerted and things were expected of us, then we tend to repeat this in other relationships as adults, expect from others and want to be in control. If we were accepted conditionally, then we will lay down conditions in accepting others. We seek relationships to fulfill and complete us because we have an unhealed child inside us and are often disappointed if others cannot meet our needs. Just because people are different from us does not make them wrong. We need to understand who we are inside and heal ourselves first. Only then will we stop to seek relationships to fill gaps in our lives and seek them instead for the true value they add to us.

Relationships can fail

This follows from the previous point. As much as we’d like to put the blame of failed relationships on circumstances or our counterparts, we must realize that relationships are also a reflection of who we are as much as the other person. We need to form a perspective in relationships because if we feel dejected by others, there is an equal chance that others feel dejected in us. Sometimes we misread people at the onset and feel betrayed when we see them change. Sometimes people change as they grow, while we are still stuck at the very same spot and may feel abandoned. As the cliché goes ‘change is the only constant’, and is also applicable to people. Parents experience this as well. They may feel that their children are not what they were while growing up. As much as their love is unconditional, their expectations from their children are not. Any deviation from the well-set our patterns as they grow hurts parents and leaves them with unexplained changes in behavior. However, we are all on our unique paths of finding our truth and the likelihood of us having the same vision as our parents and being on the exact same path at the same time is slim. Paths can be similar but not exactly the same. Without perspective, understanding, and empathy, it is difficult to see this difference. Once we do, our mind will be able to grasp this concept better.

 The need for reciprocation

The need for attention, to be wanted, loved, appreciated, and cared for are common human expectations. If we bestow this upon others, then we consider them not returning the favor to be absolute sacrilege. This puzzles us and we fail to understand why someone won’t respect our feelings by reciprocating. What exactly are we looking for? Do we have a set of parameters that this reciprocation must fit? People do love but in their own way. Yes, it would be nice for people to express what they feel openly and transparently in a globally recognizable manner. Love as they say is a global language and yet it’s expression can be very complex. Open communication is a challenge all around the world and only a few have the courage and willingness to participate in this exercise. Sometimes two people find a common ground to be understood and at times it’s a never-ending mystery due to the natural shortcomings in expression of one or both individuals.

Life is not our debtor

We make plans and more often than not they go awry. We can’t for the life of us understand why things always have to go wrong. Life doesn’t owe us anything and is meant to carry on its business as it deems fit. We need to adapt to situations and circumstances. To make plans and be prepared is very important, but to prepare our minds to the fact that our plans can and will fail many a time is of utmost significance.

Neither are people

Just because we feel people owe us due to our own concoctions in our minds does not make it a reality. Sometimes it’s a feeling of entitlement and at times we genuinely expect it because we do a lot for them. If people owe us money, sure we can find ways of extracting it should they resist. However, no matter how much good we do for someone, he or she does not owe us anything in return. Sometimes people don’t love back, just like the answer to some of our prayers is a resounding ‘no’. Someone may mean the world to us but for them, we may barely exist. That’s how the cookie crumbles sometimes and we need to accept that. Let’s understand that some things are beyond our control and not let our delusions create havoc in our minds because of them.

 Every man for himself

The thought that the human race is rapidly losing any semblance of brotherhood, chivalry, unity, and generally doing good in the world drives me nuts. Small acts frustrate me on a regular basis. Why can’t that cab driver observe the traffic rules? Why can’t that person respect the queue? If businesses keep other businesses alive, why does he think about only his profits? Why do they kill over a 20-rupee ticket at a toll booth? Why do they cheat and then shamelessly stare the law in the eye, knowing they cannot be touched? Why does she take advantage of his grave financial condition? My mind knows that the world has always been like this, but I expect better because we live under this veil of a civilized society. As bad as the middle ages were, people’s word counted for something (Except that of Cersei Lannister of course). Not today. If people find any unscrupulous means of getting ahead, they will resort to it. So I shouldn’t expect from others but only from myself to have an impact large enough to turn the tide.

What people think about me

This is amongst my favorites. I have had long conversations with friends, family, colleagues, acquaintances, and strangers about their insecurities of being perceived in a bad light by others. Trying to please a bunch of people is exactly what that will cause a major deviation from our pristine personality and relegates us to confused, inconsistent, moody, and erratic individuals. Just when we think we have done everything right in everyone’s eyes, someone will express their displeasure. And if that does not happen, over time we will feel hollow from within. We will rack our brains and spend sleepless nights wondering what went wrong. The answer is we strayed away from who we really are. People that accept us for who we are, are the ones that should really matter. Everything else is just an illusion of an association.

These are some broad areas that I have spent years worrying about and I can fit most worrisome and frustrating thoughts into one of these categories. While I haven’t attained nirvana (not even close), I have recognized these problem areas and am now making a valiant attempt to stem the tide. Some of us prefer professional help, while others may want to start small with their own backing.

Stay tuned for some backyard practices to halt the wondering wanderer.

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Baptism By Migration

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Many of us have stayed in our home towns, and even with our parents our entire lives (except when we went on short trips or to the local mart to pick up some milk while holding daddy’s hand of course). This is particularly true in India and some of the other Eastern cultures. While I value the closeness and support of family as much as anything in the world, I have come across people that completely lack a sense of ability in their own independence to perform basic tasks and take everyday decisions (which include picking their own wardrobe, deciding on the brand of cereal they like, figuring what their favorite color is and determining if they need to participate in the local sack race). These examples may sound like exaggerations but I know of people that depend on parents, family members, and close friends to make some ridiculous decisions for them, as well as help them execute these terribly ‘burdensome’ acts. And many that can make decisions independently still turn out to be a bit soft and cower under the smallest of adversities. Until my late teens, I was certainly one of them.

I was always a ‘mama’s boy’ and to a great extent, I still am. ‘Mama’s boy’ is a term used to ridicule men that are still attached to their mothers after a certain age. Well, what’s wrong with that? Shouldn’t one be? Attachment does not indicate a lack of independence. However, while I was very comfortable in my skin (Mumbai is a hot place so we don’t get a chance to don clothing made of other species’ skins) and took decisions independently, I never felt ready to face the real world. And the thought of being away from home was scary as hell.

When I was 10, I was being sent away on a week-long Karate camp, less than 100 kilometers from home. I behaved like I was being sent to the Pakistan border to fight their cavalry with only a toothpick in hand. I whined about not wanting to go weeks before the camp and even tried coming up with a strategy of getting the camp canceled. All this for a week-long camp. Am I kidding you? I’m afraid not. I was an easy pushover in school too, especially during extracurricular activities. While I was confident about standing my ground at home even if I was on the wrong side of the fence, I couldn’t for the life of me even utter a word when my abilities were overlooked at times for other agendas. If I had to do anything outside my comfort zone or stand up for myself, I froze. In the school bus, at social events, at the local playground, during private tutoring, when confronted by rowdy strangers, and even during unsavory moments with friends and cousins.

You leave home to seek your fortune and, when you get it, you go home and share it with your family – Anita Baker

At age 18, I faced genuine terror. While it was my decision as much as my parent’s that I would go abroad to study, the reality of it hit me only a few weeks before I was to leave. I spent my last days in Mumbai like it was my last days on planet Earth (After which, I’m sure my parents would have wanted to ship me off to some godforsaken celestial blob outside the Milky Way to ensure they can’t hear me cry and complain). I felt heartbroken, burdened with anxiety, had sleepless nights, and turned from a talkative fellow to a mute in no time at all. How was I going to live in the absence of my parents, family, and my girlfriend at the time? In fact, it took me over a year to get over my homesickness and truly settle in the gorgeous Granville, OH (This is definitely some kind of record at Denison University). I felt like I had been transported from a metropolitan city to one of the towns from the Ladybird books I read as a child (I expected to see the three little pigs or Snow White at every turn).

I call this the ‘boo hoo’ syndrome. And many of us are infected by it. We can’t do without our loved ones even for a few days, we don’t know how to manage our homes, we wouldn’t know how to come up with a basic meal ourselves, if our televisions stop functioning our life comes to a standstill, if our maid takes off we get suicidal, and if we fall ill while we’re alone, we consider ourselves to be the unluckiest people on the planet.

I spent eight years away from home in the USA and they were indeed my formative and defining years. I learned to fight for myself and others, while in India I would think twice before taking on a mouse (Actually I still do. Mice are freaky). I learned to handle multiple responsibilities single-handedly. Where a 6-hour day of productivity in India would knock the wind out of me, I still felt fresh on most days after a 14-hour day in the USA. When I was home, a single rejection would destroy my spirit, but in the USA, I had no job for a few months and a dwindling bank balance, and I only felt positive with every passing day despite regular rejections. I learned to lead wherein earlier I only followed blindly. I even learned how to tie my shoelaces in one motion.

These years were challenging, they were unrelenting, they were rewarding, they were fun, they made me cry, they made me laugh, they toughened me, I became self-reliant, I made lifelong friends, I learned life lessons, I learned how to survive, and I matured rapidly over these years. And these are easily amongst the best few years of my life until this point. While I spent months regretting it, this turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life. It made me capable in many ways.

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It’s important for us to get away from our flocks and get a taste of the world on our own. The experience challenges us, even beats us to the ground, but then that is the essence of life: to come back from hardship and reap its rewards. As hard as it seems at the beginning, you will always relish your time away from home, a lesson in mental and emotional maturity. And when we come back, we understand so much more about our homes through the perspective we have gained. Going away helps us appreciate our homes so much more than we ever could if we never left.

So get out of your comfort zone people. Take a shot at going solo. Get away from home for a bit and trust yourself to hold your own. After all, not everyone is lucky enough to get a two-day crash course at home in growing up and taking responsibility like Macaulay Culkin did in Home Alone.

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Level Up!! Welcome to the stage of life

You love video games. Come on, admit it. No matter what your age, or cultural background, or how bad your fine motor skills are, you love video games. Even if you’re a dinosaur, you know you will ask your 5-year child or grandchild, who is just moving on from the intermediate level to the expert level of handling technological devices, to teach you how to use a smartphone, just so that you can begin playing that game you saw someone on the metro play.

Just like everything in life, video games have evolved in leaps and bounds. Most of us today are exposed to ultra-realistic graphics, to the extent that it becomes difficult to tell the difference between video game characters and actors and sports personalities on screen. I remember playing NBA2K a few years ago when my uncle walked into the room and asked “Who is playing today?”, and I replied “Your 15-year old son and I. The loser has to have his nose and tongue pierced. I’m 20 points up”.

The first video game of ‘noughts and crosses’ by Nimrod in the early fifties to the latest obsessions like NBA, FIFA, God of War, Call of Duty, Spider-Man, and my favourite MLB: The Show, among many others (No, Fruit Ninja isn’t a game. It’s just a way for you to put as many smudge marks on your phone screen in as many places as possible), have kept our competitive spirits on the rise while keeping us thoroughly entertained. We can continue playing through the weekend, even the whole week without a bathroom break because we’re engaged, our adrenaline is high, and we want to come out on top and won’t settle for anything less. As we say, ‘we’re zoned in, we’re in the game’.

And then reality strikes, life arrives, and our heroic ‘never say die’ versions start feeling weak, despondent, and willingly lay down our arms at the first sight of adversity. Worse still, we resort to inaction because we anticipate that what might happen next will be an event that will be too difficult to deal with. We fear the unknown, perhaps because we almost always believe it may not be good.

We have all the possible excuses to remain stagnant. “I can’t resign from my miserable job, because the next one could be even worse”. “I can’t ask this question in class, what will others think?” “I won’t do well in my presentation as I suck at public speaking, I may as well not prepare” “I’ve been told I’m a good dancer, but what if I freeze on stage?” “I can’t marry him, the in-laws are part of the package (Okay, I admit this fear is valid)”. “What if the police find out? (Don’t get any ideas, I’m just making sure you’re paying attention here)” “What if I sound childish?” “What if I hurt someone?” and the list goes on.

Do we ever hear ourselves saying “Damn, level 6 on Mario is likely to be really hard, let me just play level 5 for a year or two”? or “I’ve been stabbed 57 times at this very stage of Assassin’s Creed, I’m done playing this game”? or even “This level is so comfortable and easy, let me just stay here forever” NO. We come back with a steelier resolve and intend to improve our performance with every single attempt. And we do this till we achieve that goal, and celebrate in euphoric fashion, compelling the old neighbor lady to think that someone in our house is getting assaulted (See, now you don’t care if the police find out).

For those that have seen the movie ‘3 Idiots’, Dr. Sahastrabuddhe says “Life is a race”. I believe life is a game and the only race run in it, is between you reaching your true potential and the time you have on this planet (or the moon, or Mars, or elsewhere if you’re young enough to see our species spread our presence) to achieve this.

We take absolute joy in playing video games and importantly no one has to ever convince us to do so, at any time of the day or night. We are ready to be entertained but also bring our ‘game face’ (pun intended) to the occasion. We play with belief, we fail at various levels but dust ourselves off and have a go again, but critically, we enjoy every moment of frustration and excellence alike. We were not born to excel at any of these games, but yet out of sheer belief, commitment, perseverance, and practice, we succeed and move on to higher levels. We tell ourselves it’s just a game and yet we play it like our lives depend on it.

Bring this joyous and spirited attitude to your lives and treat it like a game, where your goal is to master one level and move onto the next. Once you activate this mindset, it won’t matter what anyone thinks, or if you’re good at public events, or the consequences of taking action, oh that’s right, the in-laws are still a problem (but you’ll figure it out, won’t you?).

I’ve heard Robin Sharma say that you need to make your ‘I can’ greater than your ‘IQ’. Your attitude is greater than your ability. As long as you bring your strong positive attitude and mindset to every single day of your life, you will lose the fear of failure. And that is a key element to success.

So, I’ve decided to shed my fear of sharing my writing for others to see and just try to do it one level at a time. Welcome to the next level!!

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