The Wandering Wondering Mind – Part 2

Wanderingmind8

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.

wanderingmind2

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.

Jigsaw Jubilation

jigsaw4

Life gives me puzzles, not problems – Quincy Jones

I’m not certain if Mr. Jones was the first to say these words (just like we can’t be sure of several other quotes), but this Grammy legend certainly combined this belief along with his talents to bring music and joy to millions.

I’ve already taken a swing at problems and pain and how we tend to change course or stop dead in our tracks at the first sight of these party poopers. I believe that we create most of our problems in our minds, and don’t give ourselves any chance of dealing with them in reality. That girl is out of my league (Because she has a great smile and I have no teeth). I will never pass my driving test (Despite this being my first attempt, with no history of failure). My prospect is not going to buy this product (Because he looks stern and closed minded). My spouse won’t understand (Because there is no record of understanding spouses in the history of mankind). My boss is likely to be a real handful (Even though it’s only the first day at a new job). I will fail my college examination (Because I didn’t get a chance to revise for the fourteenth time this morning). I will drown in the bathtub if I fill it completely (Because I’m only a little taller than Tyrion Lannister). And you can all add your own examples here to make this the longest list in the world.

Some of these problems are not even ours to bear and don’t impact our lives directly, but we cringe at the outcome already forming in our head (For instance, if the opponent of our favorite tennis player is Roger Federer, we consider the match lost. If a particular political party wins the elections, we consider our country doomed, like the previous one was Godsend. Or, we even fear that Priyanka Chopra may not get along with her mother in law).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

While I don’t always confer the designation of puzzles to all my problems, I have dealt with several challenges in my life by treating them likes games or sports. During my days at an investment bank, I had to put in long hours, which comprised of tough tasks, and a race against time. Now I would come to my office in the morning of a 14-hour work day, and feel like I had a Herculean task ahead of me, and find my shoulders sagging a bit. I am a huge sports fan (if you didn’t already know that) and used sport to keep my drive up. I broke up my 14 hours into a game of basketball or football, depending on my mood for either tackles and brute force or dunks and fast breaks. The first hour was pregame warm-ups. The next twelve hours were broken into fours quarters of play (with a short lunch break at half time), and the last hour as the postgame presentation. My work was my opponent, and being a competitive person, I now managed to convert fear into excitement and determination to win the game. I would plan all along and see where I stood at the end of each period of play, and if I needed to re-strategize. Not only did I make work more interesting for myself, but in the quest to win, I also put in good performances (Plus I would give myself an interview at the end of each day and revel in my achievements…:)).

I have a degenerating spine and am in regular discomfort because of it. I have tried various forms of treatment, physiotherapy, and other fitness exercises for close to two decades now. While I have seen favorable results, none of them have been permanent. And when I get spasms (every 12 to 18 months), I could be bedridden for a good part of a month. This puts a break on all my activities and also negates a lot of work I’ve put in towards my fitness. Rather than get disheartened, I try new techniques and exercises (under the guidance of a therapist/doctor of course) to see how I can finally beat this ailment (Being a cricket fanatic, this is my Indian tour down under, the final frontier). I even talk to my back at times to see if I can solve a thing or two and have that eureka moment where I have found the optimal solution. And what’s more, I make jokes on my back and allow my friends and cousins to do so as well, to always keep the humor and fighting spirit alive. I am India’s Leaning Tower of Pisa (With a tilted body during my spasms).

Thick waistlines and slim bank accounts, daily goals we can’t surmount

Irritable spouses and disobedient kids, flaring tempers that don’t have a lid

Long working hours and short stacks of cash, balding heads, and an uneven mustache

Many words of disappointment but few of appreciation, failing economies and warring nations

More cars and fewer roads, diminishing strength and heavy loads

Crowded trains we cannot board, great desires that we can’t afford

Sour grapes and no wine, big dreams but no spine

– Harsh Chandriani

So go ahead and ask that girl out, and not worry about the outcome. What’s the worst that can happen? She will slap you? So what? It’s about your attitude and how you view this situation. Don’t think she assaulted you, but instead cared enough to touch your face (That’s a positive thing).

The problems of puzzles are very near the problems of life – Erno Rubik

jigsaw2

Whether it’s challenges at work, health problems, relationship roadblocks (both personal and professional), financial difficulties, or a plethora of daily inconveniences, we tend to get bogged down by them. We rely on negative past experiences to predict future outcomes. I have come to terms with the fact that life will always throw curveballs at us no matter what, so it’s best to have a little fun and adventure while we’re tackling them. I have made a conscious effort to look at my problems as puzzles (games and sports to be more specific), and deal with them with a pinch of salt and a sense of humour.

Let’s find our own jigsaw fixations, and deal with our problems in a manner that we find fun, quest oriented, and intriguing. On life’s rainy days, while we try and shield our heads, let’s jump into the puddles every now and again.

jigsaw1

Inanimate Companions

How many people around us actually listen to us when we speak to them? How many are actively engaged in a conversation with us when we are divulging secrets, talking of our pain, reminiscing a moment of brilliance, or even just rambling on about life and its unpredictability? More, importantly, how often do we truly listen when our family, friends, colleagues, associates, clients, and Rahul Gandhi seek our undivided attention? We are all guilty of listening for the ‘sake’ of listening with little interest in understanding what is being said and empathising with the speaker (Unless of course they are talking about how cool we are and all the incredible things we’ve done in life, including driving at high speeds like a maniac, posting a selfie every three minutes, crossing the railway tracks with the train just meters away, partying fourteen days a week, and ridiculing the next door boy for his interest in sewing).

And there are people, whose presence just seems to offer comfort without the need for any interaction (Unless they change the TV channel against your will). Just knowing that they are there in our room, and our lives provide assurance and enhance our confidence to stand up and face life. While I’m blessed to have a few such people in my life, not everyone is lucky enough to have this sort of mental and emotional backing. However, there are phases in life where even our pillars of support have a breakdown or move away for various reasons (Hopefully, not because you changed the TV channel back to the one you were watching originally). While it is imperative that we offer our support in their times of trials and tribulations (except when they are frustrated over Bigg Boss results), we too need to be in the right mental space to do so.

I was the first child in my generation, across my extended family, and by a few years at that. I grew up in a joint family and while I had my parents, uncles, aunts, a grandmother, and a lot of house help (no Indian family is complete without a battalion of helpers) around all the time, I spent a fair amount of time on my own. Despite their constant support and affection, I always sensed an emotional gap, leading to insecurity, loneliness, and a feeling of detachment. This is when I invested a lot of my emotions into my toys, which comprised of toy vehicles at a very young age, and progressed onto action figures over time. Today, I am a diehard pop culture and action figure aficionado, with hundreds in my collection (And for the mockers, these aren’t just toys, but a revolution for past, present, and future generations. Look around you, there are only billions of you, but millions of us). A large number of my emotions were invested in sports, my other passion.

Cricket

He-Man was my first superhero, followed by the G.I. Joes, Sachin Tendulkar, a host of other athletes (including the finger-exercising Vishwanathan Anand), the Punisher (the anti-hero married to guns, my version of ‘Gun-pati’) the X-Men, and the list continues to grow even today. As a young boy, I used to sleep with my ‘Masters of the Universe’ figures to ward off any evil lurking around the room (Which, invariably turned out to be the shadows of my other action figures on the wall). As an adolescent, I used to pick up my cricket bat and shadow practice my batting in order to lower my anxiety before an examination (I ended up scoring more imaginary runs than marks the next day). As a teenager, I spent time reposing my action figures, which added cheer to my day after a squabble with my girlfriend (I couldn’t take a flight from the USA to India to patch things up every few days unless she was willing to fly me, first class). After college, as a young twenty-three-year-old, I spent time frequenting comic book and pop culture stores in New York City to help me fight desolation caused by joblessness (And also tell myself that I had no time to apply for jobs, when I could be busy walking the streets, having fun). During my days at an investment bank, I always had sports scores refreshing in the browser in the background, telling me that if the Indian cricket team and the Yankees could win, I could too, in my race against time to meet challenging deadlines (While mocking my Pakistani colleague, even if India had just defeated England). Finding my way back into India (this was extremely hard in many aspects) in my late twenties, after almost a decade abroad, was made easier by the various 6 and 12 inch characters staring back at me from their glass houses in my bedroom, offering daily encouragement (With their swords and guns trained on me, threatening to attack if I decided to call it quits). Even today, a frustrating and demoralising day at work, or in a personal setting can be tempered by watching short video reviews of the latest Hot Toys releases and sports highlights for a few minutes (Watching any more than a few minutes of these at work would likely take me back to my days of job applications).

AF

Today, I’m fortunate to have the presence of my parents and extended family. I’ve been married for nine years to a very supportive, loving and caring woman. I’m a father to a beautiful three-year-old brat. I have fantastic friends who have been along the ride with me for over two and three decades (How many people can claim to still be friends with people that they shared diapers with? Mind you I always had first use, before there was poop in them). And it’s these people that make life worth living and form our support system. However, we all have our bad phases, and the best efforts of our parents, family, and friends fall short at times. They care and always mean well, but if results always followed intentions, the world would have far lesser problems (Assuming the intent isn’t to cheat, hurt, damage, or just simply blow the world up).

This is when we need to help ourselves. And we can always use a little extra succor to keep us moving forward. We may have a great mindset, strong will, commitment to our cause, a positive attitude, and high resilience, but we need reinforcement every now and again. For me, a few moments of playing or watching sport, or spending time around my action figure collection can prepare me for days of rough weather. For you, music may work wonders, or confiding in your pet dog could make the blues go away (If your neighbors saw this, it will make them go away as well). You may feel better by playing ‘who blinks first’ with your cat, or ‘drown’ your sorrows away while watering your plants (Unless you own Attenborough’s pitcher plant, in which case it may alleviate all your problems by having you for lunch). Testing the contents of your wardrobe could put a smile on your face (unless you suddenly realize that most of them have shrunk because you invade McDonald’s frequently), or your library could give you one reason to rejoice amongst the gloom surrounding you.

Sports gear, toys, pets, plants, books, music, stationery, furniture, movies, shoes, underwear, and a million other things; we all have something (or non-human beings) that we have an attachment towards and ones that we hold dear to our heart. And while we seek solace amongst our family and friends, we must realize that there are some paths that we need to walk alone. But there is a cheat code to this ‘alone’ business, and it is all the things that we have always cherished subconsciously, for most, if not all of our lives. The key is to recognize them and feed them into our conscious mind, to help us through all those rainy days (Or just use an umbrella)

When I wake up, my gaze falls on my wife and daughter first, and then I spend a moment acknowledging all my little warriors that have stood the test of time with me, always present, steadfast in their commitment towards me.

‘By the power of Grayskull,’ you can get through anything.

He Man

Sporting Revelations

I have always believed there are two activities that each and every one of us must participate in on a regular basis: playing a sport, and learning and practicing the art of self-defense. I like to refer to these as lifetime activities (Not only because I believe we should incorporate them as a critical part of our lives, but also because they are likely to add more time to our lives).

Apart from the joy of playing the sport itself, the level of self-development that occurs by engaging in a sport is invaluable. Sport isn’t just for people that are sport oriented, but for anyone that is keen on developing valuable life skills (And yet there are people that would much rather while their time away watching prank videos on YouTube all day, staring at the ceiling, raising their blood pressure as the vixen in the TV soap executes her hideous plan, and studying oneself in the mirror to figure out which part of their face is the good side, so they know how to pose for the gazillion pictures they will take in their lifetime).

Sports1

We have people who would rather learn the art of self defense at Indian railway stations and malls (where you get to shove one another, wrestle, pull each other’s hair out, gouge people’s eyes, have a fragrant basket of fish fall on your head, and occasionally push someone on the train tracks, or even onto an escalator headed in the direction opposite to their destination), as opposed to in a specialised class by a qualified instructor. Then there are people, mostly women, who have the optimum self-defense weapon, ‘the pepper spray’ (Wow!! I’m surprised most of the elite armed squads around the world opt for modern firearms when they can easily use pepper spray more effectively). And while these pepper spray touting geniuses are at it, they may as well carry a salt shaker and some cutlery, since they are already offering themselves up for sacrifice. In today’s world (and tomorrow’s world too), there is no alternative to knowing self-defense. You might strut around confidently, armed with your pepper spray, but when real danger arrives, ‘spray’ turns into ‘pray’.

Sports3

The benefits of sport and self-defense knowledge are innumerable. Not only do they produce a fit body, but they also

  • improve concentration (even in Math class)
  • increase confidence (you may even be able to give that speech in public speaking class without playing the duck in the shooting alley)
  • make us competitive in a dog-eat-dog world (or doggy dog world, the way I heard it for a good part of my life, and couldn’t for the life of me figure out what that was supposed to mean)
  • improve blood circulation and enhance immunity (unless you visit McDonald’s after every session of play)
  • help develop a positive attitude (even towards your boss’ tongue lashings and indifference)
  • indoctrinate discipline (which seems to be a fading trait these days)
  • establish commitment (which also seems to be an alien word nowadays)
  • allow us to maintain a calmer state in pressure situations (unless the bathroom at the badminton court is suddenly out of service)
  • improve reflexes and awareness (you will be fully aware of the brick hurled at you when you ask your professor’s daughter out and be quick enough to evade it)
  • help build mutual respect (and help keep our ‘I know it all’ cocky selves in check)
  • allow us to set goals (and bolder ones than we are used to, like jumping off a plane with a human attached to our back as opposed to a parachute)
  • boost self-esteem (unless you consider Candy Crush to be a sport and have failed to make it past the first stage since 2015)
  • ingrain the art of teamwork in our self-righteous beings (including planning a holiday with the wife’s side of the family)
  • offer self-protection (now at least you will punch your attacker a few times before threatening him/her with pepper spray)

I speak with experience, having played multiple team and individual sports, as well as having learned and practiced Karate. I was enrolled in a Karate class at age 8 and continued for four years before I thought I was too cool for this daily boring regime. I regret quitting, but during those years, my confidence, self-awareness, concentration, performance, health, and fitness were at their peak. And the training has stayed with me and helps me feel safer physically (I can handle an attack by three 6-year olds without a fuss). Fortunately, I played sport for a lot longer, and jog regularly even today (I only call it running if you run for more than a kilometer at a stretch, before collapsing on the pavement). My daily runs (I’ve reduced the distance criteria to 50 meters now) allow me to de-stress, unwind, realign my mind and body, stay focused, stay committed, and stay strong against all odds. As a result, I am more prepared to handle all the punches life throws at me (Except the ones thrown at me by some ferocious homo sapiens, when I accompany my wife to a Zara sale).

I gave up on sport and exercising for a few years because I got so caught up in battling life’s challenges. I decided I was too busy firefighting and didn’t have time for sports and games (I always had time for video games apparently). And yet, I always seemed to struggle in the face of adversity. At the end of each round, I seemed to be down with the referee in my face, counting aggressively. In my quest to address situations that arose in my personal and professional lives, I discarded the very tools that were likely to help me keep up, and even excel.

Sports2

Now that I’m back to some of my old sporting ways, I find I’m better equipped to deal with circumstances physically and mentally. And the peace of mind, composure, and the sheer joy of accomplishing small daily goals it brings is priceless. Game, set, match, pepper spray!!

Sports4