Smell the Roses
Life has become quite hectic these days. Everyone is racing against the clock with a schedule, a plan and a list of things to do. It is almost as though the fast forward button of humanity has been activated and everyone is thinking, working and accomplishing things at twice the normal speed.
Multi-tasking has become the new norm. And there are all kinds of gadgets and contraptions that make this way of life absolutely entertaining. Just imagine, while travelling on a train, one can listen to a favorite song on an MP3 player, respond to emails on a smartphone, and chat with one’s children, spouse and friends all at the same time! It is incredible how modern technology has enabled man to make use of every second of the day. But, at what expense?
As seekers on a spiritual path whose main objective is to still the mind through the practice of one-pointed meditation, this twenty-first century lifestyle is leading us in the opposite direction. With so many distractions at our fingertips, the mind is perpetually churning thoughts, resulting in a kind of mental motion sickness afflicting the already struggling disciple. For how can a mind that is high-strung and excessively active during the day become still during meditation?
It must be emphasized that it is not technology nor modernization that is at fault here. In the hands of a criminal, a gun is considered an assault weapon, but in the hands of a policeman it could very well be a lifesaver. Similarly, technology provides us with all kinds of devices to make life easier and simpler so people can have more time to themselves. The problem stems from human weakness and man’s inability to control and discipline the mind.
Sant Mat literature is full of letters from disciples asking the Masters for advice on how to still the mind during meditation. In their response, the Masters explain that it is simply a question of training, discipline and habit. First and foremost, they explain that the mind is like a wild horse and as such, it has to be trained. If we don’t put in any effort towards controlling it and we indulge its every whim, then that is the kind of mind we will have to deal with.
They also compare the mind to a computer and explain that whatever data you put into it will be exactly the same data you get out of it. So, if we input data of the physical world, the mind will collect impressions of material things. If we input data of spirituality, the mind will collect impressions of subtle things.
It is, therefore, logical to conclude that concentration in meditation is directly related to how the mind is being trained in everyday life. If one is constantly multi-tasking and saturating the mind in worldly activities day after day, then one would definitely reap the result of that during meditation time.
In its natural condition, the mind is already used to jumping from one object to another. When it is indulged even more, then at the time of meditation, it gets tossed about like a ship on a stormy sea and concentration becomes impossible. In fact, it is at that time that we realize how it is actually our own actions that stand between us and focused meditation.
Sant Mat teaches us that in order to achieve concentration in meditation, the mind needs to be engaged in persistent and constant simran during the day – whenever the mind is free. But these days, when is the mind ever free?
Acknowledging our present condition, the mystics give us practical advice that can be of tremendous help. It is something that people used to do back in the days when life was simple, but have perhaps forgotten in the hustle and bustle of today’s busy lifestyle. The Masters refer to it as the art of doing nothing.
Essentially, it means, to literally practise doing nothing. Like sitting in a car and just looking out the window; or having a meal with our family where everyone sits down together, eats and enjoys each other’s company. It means pacing ourselves – attending to one thing at a time and allowing ourselves some time to smell the roses.
What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
William Henry Davies
By creating that little bit of mental space, we appreciate everything around us and savour the moments of our lives. But most importantly, we learn to live in a state of awareness and experience, instead of being engrossed in our own neuroses and letting all the best parts of life pass us by.
The mystics say that by living this way, we will be less attached to worldly goals and outcomes, and will feel lighter. Eventually, it will become easier to let go during meditation time and this will be a great help in achieving our goal of focused meditation.
We all live under so much pressure these days that we are always in need of some kind of stress relief. The best source of relaxation comes from quieting the nerves through the blissful solitude of focused meditation. Just as sleep and rest are indispensable to the physical body, so too is that one-pointed attention in meditation indispensable to one’s spiritual welfare.
Focused meditation helps us live focused lives. We are able to think clearly and pursue our goals with a definite sense of direction. We recognize the difference between necessity and indulgence and conduct ourselves accordingly; we learn to prioritize and attend to what is most important.
Ultimately, meditation helps us achieve a state of balance so that we can handle everything that is required of us without losing our focus. It allows us to do both our spiritual work and our physical work in a simple and relaxed manner giving us plenty of time along the way … to stop and smell the roses.
Ask anyone, and you will find that no one has any free time…. What is the point of progress if we do not get an hour to ourselves, or even half an hour to relax? Tension is written on everybody’s face, no one appears relaxed, and even a handful of people cannot sit together and laugh and play. So what advantage are we getting from progress?
It is not that there is anything wrong with development in itself; what is wrong is that we have become slaves to these things. They were made for our benefit, not we for theirs. We have become like components in these machines; we have failed to be their masters.
We should take control of development…. There should be unity and peace in the family; children should show respect to their parents, and parents should love their children. We should be sympathetic and helpful to others…. At no cost should we compromise with the basic values of human life. When basic values are lost, how can material progress be of any benefit to us?
Maharaj Charan Singh, Spiritual Discourses, Vol. II