What Moves You?

Article in the Life Coach Section of the February 2015 Issue of H&Y Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran

H&Y - Page - Feb 2015

Have you ever wondered why we do the things that we do? What moves us? What makes us wake up in the morning and do the things we do and go about living our lives? Though these might seem like extremely fundamental questions, the answers are surprisingly simple. Irrespective of what your answers to the above questions are, they could fall under only two categories. That means there are just two broad ways in which people drive themselves in this world.

 

External Motivation

This is the kind of motivation that is hugely oriented towards the world around you.

People who have a strong sense of external motivation constantly look for feedback from the outside world for whether or not they are doing well.

 

Internal Motivation

This is the kind of motivation that is majorly oriented inwards.

People who have a strong sense of internal motivation constantly look into themselves for feedback on how they are doing in life.

While this applies to almost all dimensions of life, I would like to highlight a few of them here.

Wealth

In the case of the creation of wealth, the externally motivated individual is likely to create wealth constantly in comparison to others. It is not enough to have a high bank balance. The amount has to be considered high even by others. It is not sufficient to own a big car if everyone else has the same car and it is not considered elite. An internally motivated person on the other hand is one who creates wealth for himself or herself. A certain bank balance would satisfy this person purely because that is the amount that this person considers high enough to meet the purpose of having that money. Likewise, an internally motivated person would buy a particular car or house only because that is the car or house that the person wants to own.

Health

It is quite common for people who are in good health to hear some social feedback about their health and start feeling better or worse based on the feedback. This is most likely to happen to the externally motivated person. An externally motivated person is more likely to feel bad if told that they look fat rather than an internally motivated person. For an internally motivated person good health could be based more on their own personal standards of body weight, appetite, energy level, etc. Whether or not an internally motivated person feels healthy is dependent on how they feel internally.

 

Success

What does it mean to be successful? Well, we’ve all heard it zillions of times that success means different things to different people. What is interesting is that for an internally motivated person, success is an internal game. Which means that even after a man has money, fame, fortune and glory, he might not feel successful if his lifestyle and achievements don’t match his internal model of success. An externally motivated person on the other hand would only feel successful if the people around him like his family, friends, colleagues, classmates, etc. consider him to be a success.

The bottom line is for us to evaluate ourselves and identify where we stand on this. If you realize that you are a hugely externally motivated person, than watch out to not live your life for others and end up feeling like you had a hollow victory in the end. And if you realize that you are majorly an internally motivated person, then take care to not end up being unable to relate to the world around you and what others consider normal.

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Five Steps To A New Behaviour

Article in the Life Coach Section of the April 2015 Issue of H&Y Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran

H&Y - Page - April 2015

Putting it simply, A Behaviour is Anything You Do. If you do something physically, like sit, stand, run, turn your head, etc., that’s a behaviour. And if you do something in your mind, like talk to yourself, think good thoughts, make a mental plan, replay an incident, etc., that’s a behaviour too. Though it might not be obvious to many of us, the truth is that human beings spend most of their lives either developing new behaviours, keeping existing behaviours or getting rid of old behaviours. And interestingly enough, getting rid of an old behaviour, keeping and existing behaviour and developing a new behaviour are all behaviours in themselves and ones that could be developed. So the development of new behaviours becomes a significant part of living the life you want. The more easily you are able to develop the kinds of behaviours that you want, the more likely you are of living your ideal life. Successful individuals from various fields like doctors, musicians, mathematicians, businessmen, martial artists and sports people know the secret to developing new behaviours extremely well. The secret is rather elementary and has 5 simple steps.

The first step to developing a new behaviour is to identify exactly what the new behaviour you want to develop is. In other words be clear about exactly what you will be doing if were demonstrating the new behaviour. For example, if the new behaviour you want to develop is to learn how to swim, nail down everything that you need to be doing to achieve that. Like going to a swimming pool, getting into the water, moving your hand and legs according to the style you are swimming in, etc. Likewise, if the new behaviour you want to develop is to start walking regularly, be crystal clear about everything that you need to be doing to achieve that. Like waking up earlier in the morning, getting ready and putting on your walking gear, actually stepping out of the house and beginning to walk, the exact path that you will take, what time you will finish and get back home, etc.

The second step is to close your eyes and see yourself doing all the things that you need to do to be demonstrating the new behaviour. While the first step was happening at a very logical level, this step is happening at an emotional and feeling level. It therefore has to be done in a very calm and relaxed manner and ensuring that you experience the feelings and emotions behind all the things that you need to do. So close your eyes, relax your body and mind and see yourself going through every single detail of the new behaviour. If you are seeing yourself walking on the street, see the flowers on the trees, feel the chill air hit you, and experience the entire walk in as much detail as possible. Do likewise for the swimming experience if that’s the new behaviour you want to develop.

Step three is the practice. You need to practice the new behaviour over and over again to get it into your system. Going for a walk for two days or being able to float on water does not make it a new behaviour. It only means that you are going in the right direction and it’s not time to celebrate yet. Repeating a behaviour consciously and deliberately, over and over again, takes you to step four.

Step four is where positive feelings about the new behaviour start to surface and eventually flood your mind. You begin to feel good about your morning walks. You feel like walking every morning and enjoy doing it and it’s not a chore anymore. You feel confident about not just floating on water but moving swiftly from one end of the pool to the other. You are no more threatened by the deep end.

The last and final step is step five. Here, your emotional comfort with the new behaviour has become so high as a result of repeated practice that the behaviour becomes rather automatic. This realistically is the celebration time but most people who have made this journey successfully realize that reaching step five in itself is a celebration and it hardly calls for any external reward system to sustain it.

Fly-By-Night Health and Fitness

Article in the Mindscape Section of the April 2015 Issue of Stayfit Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran

SF - Page - April 2015

At the heart of Fitness and Good Health is the feeling and experience of sustained Wellbeing. It is not about repeating a set of exercises every day, it is about enjoying the process of doing it while achieving and keeping the state of health you want. It’s not about going to the gym everyday but doing the right things while you are there. It’s not about getting on to a crash diet and losing a lot of weight but ensuring that you don’t gain it all back a month later. Quick fix solutions and short cuts seem to be the mantra of today’s health and fitness industry. It is quite common to come across ads that say “Lose 10 kgs in 30 days” or “Get back your lost hair in one sitting”. These are all symptoms of the “Fly-By-Night Health and Fitness” mindset. The ephemeral approach to getting healthy, which stresses more on speed of achieving the so called results rather than the permanence of a solution. Liposuction and power yoga are other examples of this. One big aspect of the “Fly-By-Night Health and Fitness” mindset is reducing things to its short term and easy to sell versions. Two important subsets of the “Fly-By-Night Health and Fitness” mindset are as follows.

The Passing the Buck Mindset

Many individuals who are pursuing any kind of health and fitness activity end up not achieving their results because they pass on the responsibility of achieving their goals to someone or something else. There are many who reduce a fit lifestyle to having a gym membership. The larger question is how often you actually show up to the gym and what you end up doing while you are there. Some take it one step further and not just join a gym but also sign up a personal trainer, as if that is a sure shot way of reaching their fitness goals. As Jack Canfield mentions in one of his talks, “You can’t hire someone else to do your push ups for you”. And of course there are the less enthusiastic who pass on the buck to their walking partners, their dieticians and even their home fitness equipment.

One fundamental dimension of getting into good health is to take complete responsibility for it and to realize that anything else like a health club, fitness instructor or even the right fitness gear is only part of a support system.

The Simplifying Mindset

Anyone who has attended a health or fitness class, be it aerobics, yoga or martial arts realizes that it takes a while to understand the various nitty-gritties and nuances of getting different exercises, postures or movements right. Typically a good teacher or instructor will ensure that the student is doing it absolutely right and therefore reaping the complete benefit and experience of the practice. The simplification mindset sets in when slowly and steadily, critical elements of a practice get dropped either due to the lack of supervision by an expert or due to trivialization of certain elements by the students themselves. Over time, this simplification could even lead to an exercise or routine being forgotten altogether until you get reminded of it. The phenomenon of focusing merely on the number of pounds of the dumbbell used for a particular exercise rather than the correctness of each movement of that exercise. Or the phenomenon of an artistic and impactful set of asanas like the surya namaskar being reduced to the number of surya namaskars that can be done in an hour.

Another critical dimension of getting into a state of good health and fitness is to value every single element of any fitness regime that you are following and ensuring that it is not diluted over time or reduced to something else altogether.

Good Health and Wellbeing is not a “Fly-By-Night” operation. It is not about getting a 2 month crash course to become a certified yoga instructor, it is about getting to the heart of any practice, however long it takes, experiencing it in its completeness, owning it and then being able to share it with others to help them live better lives.

When It Comes To Comfort Zones, Size Does Matter

Article in the Life Coach Section of the March 2015 Issue of H&Y Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran

H&Y - Page - March 2015

The quality of your life is directly proportional to the size of your comfort zone. What is this comfort zone all about? The word comfort could mean different things, like a sense of relief, being free from any sort of pain or anxiety or quite simply, being at ease. The space where you experience this relief or freedom or ease is called your comfort zone. In other words, the circumstances, scenarios, places and activities that keep you comfortable make up your comfort zone. Expanding this comfortable space of yours has a huge correlation with various aspects of your life like personal growth, learning, health, wealth, relationships, life satisfaction, etc. Let me outline a few, to clarify this point.

 

Health

After a point in life, being healthy is directly related to how healthy your habits are. For example, if you are only comfortable eating junk food everyday and not exercising, you are likely to become obese and unhealthy. To get healthier, one needs to eat healthy and develop healthier habits like exercising regularly rather than drink excessive amounts of alcohol and chain smoke. Eating green and juicy vegetable instead of junk food, drinking more water instead of alcohol and quitting smoking could be extremely uncomfortable for many. But that is exactly where you need to push yourself beyond your current level of comfort and expand your comfort zone. By consciously doing the things that you might be uncomfortable doing at first but that are good for health and wellbeing, you will gradually expand your comfort zone and in the process step into a healthier life.

 

Wealth

Your earning potential or the amount of money you make is directly linked to the size of your comfort zone. Across organizations, the people who get paid more are the ones who do more complex things and own and execute greater challenges. Many people don’t grow in organizations because they are not comfortable taking up larger responsibilities and therefore don’t get paid higher. There are numerous examples of people who have inherited huge amounts of money from their parents or relatives but whose comfort zones were too small to handle such large amounts of money. Eventually such people end up losing most of their money or even going bankrupt. One of the quickest ways to get rich would be to expand your comfort zone. Get comfortable with taking greater risks, owning larger responsibilities and working harder than you now think possible for you for yourself.

 

Happiness

While there are several things that make a person happy, I would like to focus on personal growth and fruitful relationship for the moment. One of the biggest causes of unhappiness is having problematic relationships with your family, friends, colleagues or life partner. The most difficult people to get along with are the ones who think their way is the only right way of being or doing things. Which means, such people are not comfortable with any behaviour or interaction from others that does not match with their own ideal ones? Developing more harmonious human relationships means being comfortable with different kinds of people, different kinds of interactions and attitudes of others. Being flexible is nothing but having a larger comfort zone.

Another big factor that gives people happiness is learning and in turn personal growth. Learning anything new involves moving from what you already know and are comfortable with to something that you don’t know and need to get comfortable with. This is well understood by anyone who has learnt a new musical instrument, a new language or even picked up a new area of work. Likewise, the very term personal growth refers to growing as a person, beyond your comfort zone.

Failure Is Not The Opposite Of Success

Article in the Mindscape Section of the July 2015 Issue of Stayfit Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran

SF - Page1 - July 2015

In a recent interview, Arianna Huffington, the co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post said “My mother used to say failure is not the opposite of success, It’s a stepping-stone to success”. When I first heard that sentence, I couldn’t help thinking how clichéd the second part of that sentence sounded. But on playing it and replaying it in my head, that old cliché made new sense to me. And because it was Arianna Huffington, who is herself a drum major for promoting wellbeing, I started thinking of this in the light of health and wellbeing too.

Quite a few people look at health and wellbeing in terms of zeroes or ones, black or white, healthy or unhealthy, happy or unhappy, etc. The point is that such people see the ideal state to be a success and everything else to be failures. For example, Paunch versus Six Pack, Fat versus Slim, Tired versus Energetic, Drowsy versus Alert, Flabby versus Muscular, Weak versus Strong, Depressed versus Elated, Anxious versus Relaxed and many more. So having a six pack is seen as success and anything else is seen as failure or being relaxed is viewed as success and anything less than that is viewed as failure. In reality a pot belly and a six pack are two ends of the same spectrum, just like anxious and relaxed are. And when you start looking at health and wellbeing in this way, you realize that tired, drowsy, flabby, weak, depressed, etc. are just points in different continua that let you know exactly where you are. Contemporary ideas in self development and personal growth strongly emphasise this.

  • There is no failure, only feedback.
  • If what you’re doing isn’t working, do something else. Anything else.
  • Doing the same things and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.

The above are just 3 out of several popular adages that support the “Failure Is Not The Opposite Of Success” idea. Even in the sphere of health and wellbeing, Failure is just a state where you’ve stopped trying. Anything else is success.

Of course, I don’t want to sound as if failure is the most comfortable spot to be in. It is not. In fact, that’s exactly why it is the place where you get maximum feedback. It is from this point that it could be most difficult to take action. Even physically, it could be more difficult for an obese person to do 100 push ups than it might be for someone who is slim and fit. Consider the following scenarios.

  • If your exercise plan or diet has not helped you get into the desired fitness level, don’t back out. Do something else. Anything else. Analyse what could have gone wrong with that particular diet or exercise plan, make changes and try it again or in the worst case, at least move on to another diet or fitness plan.
  • Imagine you’re a long distance runner and you’ve steadily been clocking better finishing times marathon after marathon for the first 5 marathons. Then suddenly, for the next two marathons, your finishing time has dropped drastically. That’s no reason to stop running altogether. And every running enthusiast knows that. These are opportunities to review your practice sessions, diet, terrain of the run, the temperature, what you kept telling yourself, etc. Then make the required changes and run the next marathon.
  • In the course of our lives, there are likely to be times when we land up with some major illnesses like cancer, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, etc. When this happens, there are many who see the situation as “Earlier I was Healthy and Now I am Sick”. Period. Once again, it is not Sick versus Healthy. You are better off telling yourself “Earlier I was Very Healthy and Now I am Less Healthy” and then doing what you need to do to improve your health. Drink more water, eat healthier, get more rest, sleet better, start exercising or take the right medication regularly. In any case sitting back and doing nothing about it is not going to help much.

So the title of this article is obviously not meant to be a lesson in English grammar but a new approach to wellbeing and life in general.

What Do You Actually Want In Life?

Article in the Life Coach Section of the June 2015 Issue of H&Y Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran

H&Y - Page - June 2015

Irrespective of which industry you’re in, which profession, which stage of your career or life or even if you aren’t part of any industry, profession or career, one thing remains common to everything you do. It is always done with a positive intention. In essence, everything that anybody does has a positive intention. This is not to be mistaken for the fact that everything that anybody does is done for the greater good of humanity or the world. That’s obviously not true. The point is that when anyone does anything, they do it with the positive intention of getting a particular outcome. What often gets muddled is that people may not have absolute clarity about what exactly they want to achieve and what things would look like after they achieve it. It is safe to say that quite often in life, we end up aiming for and achieving things that are not in fact what we actually wanted.

This reminds me of the wonderful old story written by Lewis Carroll called Alice in Wonderland. There is a point in the story where sweet little Alice is walking in wonderland and is looking for direction. On the bough of this tree, she sees this beautiful cat called the Cheshire cat. A conversation between the cat and Alice went something like this:

Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?

Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to  

Alice: I don’t much care where……

Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn’t matter which way you go

Alice: ……so long as I get SOMEWHERE

Cheshire Cat: Oh, you’re sure to do that, ….if you only walk long enough

Though this was supposed to be a book for children, there are useful lessons for people in all walks of life in it. For example, the above conversation makes it crystal clear that even in life, if you don’t know where you want to get to, then any road will take you there.

One of the best things that you can possibly do for yourself is to ask yourself this most relevant question: What do you want in life? Or better still, What do you actually want in life?   I have personally asked these questions of many people and one category of responses you get is:

  • A better job
  • A higher salary
  • A big house
  • A fancy car
  • An ideal life partner
  • A fat bank balance, etc.

These are what you call MEANS goals. These are not the things you actually want in life but unfortunately there are many who might spend an entire lifetime pursuing them not even getting past their allure. If you scratched the surface a little more, you would realize that the reason someone wants a fat bank balance, a big house or an ideal life partner is to achieve something larger like,

  • A feeling of security
  • A sense of pride
  • The feeling of joy
  • Happiness
  • Peace of mind
  • Love, etc.

These feelings or emotions are what you call ENDS goals. They are essentially what all human beings are trying to experience in life.

Just realizing this helps you shift gears from chasing momentary excitement to experiencing sustained positive emotions. This shift typically gives your positive intentions a new edge and therefore makes you take actions that could save you months, years and sometimes an entire lifetime of toil and effort.

Mindful Eating

Article in the Mindscape Section of the June 2015 Issue of Stayfit Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran

SF - Page - June 2015

At a recent conference that I attended on Psychotherapy and Counselling, I had an interesting conversation with a psychologist who was into Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy. One of the highlights of our discussion was the practice and benefits of Mindful Eating, which I’d like to share with you.

We all know that Mindfulness refers to paying attention to your thoughts, emotions and physical sensations and bringing your complete awareness to the present moment. Now if you can do this while you are eating, that would be termed as Mindful Eating. The same is true of drinking, walking, talking or for that matter anything else you do mindfully.

Though the brain is capable of taking care of the stomach with respect to hunger and fullness, it is not uncommon to find people who continue to eat even after they are full and people who don’t grab a bite despite feeling extremely hungry. The part of the brain, called the Hypothalamus controls hunger by regulating energy intake and in turn creating the feeling of satiety. Though most people think that we start feeling full soon after we start eating, it actually takes over 15 minutes for all the satiety signals to reach the brain. Apart from the satiety aspect, there are a number of other dimensions that determine our eating behaviour, like quantity of the serving, the choice of food, whether accompanied by alcohol or other drinks, our emotional state, the eating occasion, etc.

What Mindful Eating helps you do is enjoy your food completely and make wiser choices with respect to eating. People claim that they have a problem eating less or dieting because they love and enjoy their food way too much. On the contrary, quite a few of them aren’t really enjoying their food while eating it. A typical restaurant or home has people glued to the television, using their mobile phones, socializing or engrossed in conversation while the delicious food is going down their throats incompletely savoured.

Apart from ensuring that you thoroughly enjoy your food while you eat it, Mindful Eating has several other fringe benefits.

  • The satiety centres of the brain respond not only to the quantity of food eaten but also to the time taken to eat the food. Mindful Eating slows you down and as a result you take longer to finish a meal. This has resulted in people not overeating unnecessarily and for many; this has turned out to be a fantastic technique for weight loss.
  •  Feelings of anger, sadness, irritation or even over excitement lead to people not tasting and enjoying their food completely. To eat mindfully, you have to slow yourself down and root yourself in the present. This has helped many in not just enjoying their food more but also establishing more neutral and grounded emotional states rather than extreme ones.
  •  People who have been able to practice Mindful Eating for a while have also questioned some of the other underlying motives behind their eating habits and have been able to address them effectively. What are you truly hungry for? Is it the craving for food or something else that pushes you to eat? Some eat to meet new people and socialize, some eat to get away from their desks at work and some others eat out of sheers boredom and because they have nothing better to do in their lives. Some of these fundamental issues in a person’s life can be spotted and addressed as a result of mindful eating.

If nothing else, it will at least help you slow down and smell the roses a few times everyday amidst the busy lives that some of us lead.

As-If Fitness and the Swan Effect

Article in the Mindscape Section of the May 2015 Issue of Stayfit Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran

SF - Page - May 2015

Though most people don’t realize this, a big part of the fitness industry is based on the idea of reproducing certain fitness results that were produced for one person, for several others. This gave rise to fitness equipment, proteins, certain kinds of exercises and even specific diets.   The whole underlying philosophy is that if someone did something and was able to produce certain fitness results, then the same fitness results should be reproducible in another person if that person did the same things. This phenomenon is called As-If Fitness. This is an idea that has been around for ages and it is exactly why people want to follow the fitness plans and work out methods of icons like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Lee. The As-If Fitness phenomenon essentially says that if you want to become fit, start by acting as if you’re fit. In other words, if you want to be fit, do what fit people do. To understand this better, consider some of the following differentiators:

  •     Most fit people could have eating habits that are different from those of people who are not fit
  •    A fitter person is more likely to be spending some time pursuing fitness compared to a person who is not fit
  •    Fitter people are more likely to be able to exercise will power than people who are not fit

By developing the right eating habits, making the right time investment and being able to exercise more will power in the right direction, you could move from a lower to a higher level of fitness. Now these are just three examples but in reality there are several more.

So, in case you’re wondering what the Swan Effect is all about and how it is linked to the As-If Fitness phenomenon, here it is. To ensure that the As-If Fitness phenomenon is used well, you need to understand what the Swan Effect is. All of us have seen swans move gracefully on the surface of water as if they are just flowing along some automatic path. What most of us don’t see and certainly don’t realize is the amount of hard work and rigorous paddling that goes on beneath the surface. This is the Swan Effect. The phenomenon of the grace and beauty taking centre stage with the actual toil and driving force under the surface being concealed. To use the As-If Fitness phenomenon well, one needs to acknowledge and appreciate the Swan Effect in the sphere of health and fitness.

People are mostly awed by a Hollywood or Bollywood star’s chiselled body but don’t realize the difficulty of following a strict diet, despite hectic travelling and acting schedules. Many want to develop the fitness levels and agility of Olympic athletes but don’t realize the number of early mornings and painful practice sessions that it must have taken them to get there. We are often carried away by the end result or the destination and miss out on the journey or the drive that it takes to get there. If you want to be a fitter and healthier person through the As-If Fitness phenomenon, the end result is a good starting point because that’s what you see instantly and that’s what inspires you. To complete the loop, you’ve got to develop the desired habits, eat the right diet, spend the required amount of time and go through the grind and practice that it takes to get fit. That’s when the As-If Fitness phenomenon is fully expressed.

How Art Helps In Clearing Your Mind

Article in the Discover Mind and Emotions Section of the September 2014 Issue of Complete Wellbeing Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran http://completewellbeing.com/article/liberate-creativity/

CWB - Page 2 - September 2014

I once asked a distinguished art therapist in Japan, “What is it about Art that gives it its therapeutic quality?”. She said “It sometimes silences your mind and if required empties it and brings it back to its truest and most natural state of being”. She of course went on to tell me how she had used art to relieve people of milder challenges like stress, body aches, worry as well as cure people of more deadly diseases like cancer, heart ailments, depression, strokes and bi polar disorder.

In this fast paced world of rat races and reducing human interaction shrouded by pokes, likes, Whatsapp messages and tweets, the run of the mill human mind is in anything but its natural state. Expression, for example is a very basic human instinct. But due to the nature of corporate hierarchies, social conditioning and sometimes even governments, people are forced to curb this instincts. There is a lot of mental clutter that accumulates as a result of things that we do throughout the day. For example, people who get back home after a hectic day and fall asleep after a heavy dinner, accumulate all the pent up stress in their systems. People who have unresolved arguments, fights and difficult relationships of all kinds, carry feelings of guilt, anger and revenge for months and sometimes years. Feelings and emotions like regret, failure, sadness and discontent get bottled up into mental clutter that later translate quite effectively into disease and pestilence.

So let me plunge in and get to the essence of what it is about art that will help in clearing your mind. Even for those who aren’t directly involved in the creation of art, merely going into a good art gallery to see an art exhibition or display of paintings will help. The silence of the art gallery, the beauty of the pieces displayed and the stillness and serene energy around helps in slowing the mind down from its daily breakneck pace.

For those involved in the creation of a piece of art or are willing to embark on that journey, here are just a few ways in which you might benefit.

  • Being Here and Now

One of the phenomenal qualities of creating a piece of art is that it forces you to step into the present. Since most of our mental fog is either about the future or the past, merely being in the present for an extended period of time helps in creating the mental space required to process other information later. While there are several other activities that could offer the same benefit, art does so in a cajoling and non threatening way, especially if approached in the right manner. Don’t start doing a painting with a specific finishing time in mind or a very accurate visual outcome. Go with the flow. Even if you have no clue about what you are going to paint, allow the blankness of the page or canvass to guide you. Let your intuition and instincts guide your hand and keep following it. In fact, if you are not a person who is used to starting without a definite image or goal in mind, try one of the following if you like:

  • Try to get that image completely wrong, in all possible ways and enjoy the process of doing it.
  • Try to create that entire image with scribbles and splashes of colour rather than with well defined lines. This will really help you loosen up.
  • Try the minimalist approach. Reduce the image to its bare essence by stripping it off anything unnecessary. Ask yourself what would be the simplest form of the image and just paint that.

People have learnt valuable lessons about going with the flow, not being perfectionists and simplifying their own lives by following some of the above techniques. Moreover, staying invested in the creation of a painting for an hour is equivalent to an hour of mindfulness meditation.

  • Emotional De-Cluttering

Art, especially with the use of colour, has direct access to the emotional part of your brain. The amygdala, an almond shaped mass of nuclei located deep within the temporal lobe of the brain is responsible for several of our emotions and motivations, especially the more rudimentary ones. It is the seat of several of the intense emotions like fear, anger and pleasure. Also, the right brain is the more intuitive, imaginative and creative side of the brain. Art greatly stimulates the amygdala and involves the use of the right brain in general. With the use of different colours, with the creation of vivid images and with the exercising of intuition, a lot of the bottled up emotional pressure is released. This gives people a renewed sense of being able to deal with their life’s situation and challenges. Mild headaches to severe migraines have been cured as a result of emotional de-cluttering.

  • Feeling Good

As a result of trying to meet strict deadlines, following set and rigid processes and doing routine work, many have lost the sense of how it feels to create something new. Painting or sketching puts people back in touch with their ability to create. It clears the mind of the monotony of repetition and ushers in new energy like a whiff of fresh air. The feeling of having created something beautiful and impressive brings in a sense of accomplishment that people carry to other areas of their lives. Many who pursue art even develop a serious interest in it and becoming part of a new circuit of friends and associates. This in itself could be a stimulating experience both with respect to how much you end up learning from each other as well being exposed to a host of new ideas and ways of looking at life.

  • Back to Basics

As mentioned earlier, one of the basic instincts of the human mind that is curbed in the world today is the instinct of expression. Art creates a clear outlet for expression. Drawing, painting, etching, scribbling, splashing colours, etc. are all modes of expression. Art helps individuals express themselves in a manner that is more fundamental and intrinsic. It is normal for people who are involved in any form of art to feel light and rejuvenated after finishing taking a piece to completion. Many who have been involved in some form of art long enough even develop a deep appreciation of doing art for art’s sake. A painting is created purely to express themselves in a manner that is most real and natural. The process of expression is embraced to its fullest for the sake of the experience rather than for social approval or to impress the world around you. People who have understood this also carry this mindset to other areas of life. They become more interested in experiencing life rather than clicking pictures of experiences to share on social media or texting to broadcast their experiences.

While most of what is discussed above is in reference to the fine art of painting or sketching, the same applies to any other form of art. Music, dance, any of the martial arts, writing and photography are all classic examples. In short, it applies to methods and techniques of art collectively and any product of human creativity. What it does not apply to is the entire space of buying, selling, trading or auctioning art.

The “Mine Is Bigger Than Yours” Phenomenon In Spirituality

Article in the Unlearn Consciousness Section of the August 2014 Issue of Complete Wellbeing Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran http://completewellbeing.com/article/spirituality-better/

CWB - Page 2 - August 2014

Just the word spirituality conjures up all kinds of references, implications and ideas in people’s minds. From spiritual character of thought to incorporeal, from delicately refined to sacred or devotional and from the essence of religion to supernatural. Irrespective of what spirituality means to a person, there is a sense among those driven by spirituality to get to a more spiritual level and make progress towards a spot of attainment. If this was not true, the person would simply not be driven by the spiritual pursuit and would be pursuing something else instead. This is the basis of the “mine is bigger than yours” phenomenon in spirituality. While the phenomenon has its roots in concepts like the “peacock tail effect” in evolutionary psychology, the word bigger here doesn’t merely refer to size. It refers to a higher level of sophistication, eliteness, some form or the other of superiority and a greater degree of authenticity or quality if you like. Apart from the base ideas of superiority of one religion over another, this phenomenon shows itself up in multiple ways especially in an age of power yoga and power spirituality. The following are some ways in which you might see the “mine is bigger than yours” phenomenon manifest itself in the world of spirituality:

  • The Inner Circle Syndrome

Spiritual leaders all over the world might have experienced this at some point of time or the other. In many Ashrams or Retreats there are likely to be one or two key spiritual leaders who are at the so called helm of affairs. It is quite common in such situations, to see some followers losing focus on their spiritual pursuit and aiming to get closer to the Guru or spiritual leader, to become part of their inner circle. There are some who even go to the extent of wanting to be the “favourite” follower or disciple. While there is nothing particularly wrong with this, it simply isn’t what a spiritual journey is all about.

  • The Journey Destination Conflict

There are several roads that lead to the destination of the spiritual experience and many a times, the spiritual experience is the road itself. There is an unsaid clash of different mindsets here. While one set of people pursue spirituality to get to a final point of bliss, enlightenment or whatever you choose to call it; there is another set that attributes more importance to the spiritual journey rather than the destination. Of course there is a third group that gives equal importance to the spiritual journey and the destination or see no difference between the two. While each of these mindsets has some kernel of truth in it, it certainly doesn’t establish the superiority of one mindset over the other. All it establishes is that people need to pursue spirituality based on what works for them.

  • The Duration Myth

The duration factor plays a crucial role in people’s perceptions of a spiritual practice. While there is no debate on the fact that with time and practice one gets better at anything including with a spiritual practice, duration is not certainly an indicator of spiritual progress. It is almost as if a quick path or easy access to a spiritual experience is not real or authentic. There are some who have had profound spiritual experiences in their very first attempt or class while there are some who have had a life changing spiritual experience on a particular day after many years of practice and there are still others who might have been on a trek in the mountains or just watching children play at a park and had an awesome spiritual awakening. Another dimension of the duration myth is related to the actual duration of the spiritual practice itself. For example, many meditators see the ability to meditate for extended periods at a stretch to be more advanced than meditating for a few minutes a day. Though it might require a certain amount of practice and ability to even sit in the same position for more than an hour, it is certainly not an indicator of the quality or level of one’s spirituality.

  • The Experience Trap

It is not uncommon in any spiritual practice for people to have interesting experiences at different points. These experiences could be anything from a feeling of immense peace, to stillness or even feeling the presence of god in one’s own sweet way. What mostly gets missed out is that spirituality is beyond these experiences. Unfortunately, many individuals get sucked into or sometimes even get addicted to these experiences. Worst still, people even equate the nature of the experience to spiritual progress. This is nothing more than a ludicrous way of reducing spirituality to a mere set of experiences.

  • A Spiritual Experience Needs To Be Complex

No it does not. There are talks by some spiritual gurus that specifically state that if someone can describe a spiritual experience to you then it is not a real spiritual experience because a true spiritual experience cannot be described in words. While an extended spiritual experience could be more difficult to explain than some simpler feelings and emotions, it is certainly not a metric of the calibre of the experience itself. It is perfectly possible for someone with a good enough vocabulary to explain the range of feelings and emotions that one has experienced during a spiritual trip and that does not take away from the quality or genuineness of that experience. On the other hand, it is also true that some deep spiritual experiences are nothing more that simple feelings like gratitude, humility, peace, love and togetherness which are well understood by most people.

  • Worshipping The Unknown

This is an extension of the previous point and a corner stone of sorts when it comes to the entire idea of spiritual comparison. In many parts of the world the whole idea of spirituality leans heavily on God, mythology and other beliefs. A belief is something that one has conviction in and takes for granted; something that is held as true despite the odds. So the concept of belief is foundational to spirituality. Even with respect to spiritual experiences, our treatment is no different. When someone has a spiritual experience that is inexplicable, unclear and perhaps incomprehensible, it is given greater importance than an experience that is more direct and clearly understood. For instance, when a person is involved in a spiritual practice and experiences a series of colours passing through their closed eyelids, feels a burst of energy from their gut and transcends into a space of peace and tranquillity like never before, it is treated as a blessed event. Perhaps one that is showered on the person by the almighty and one that the person was “lucky” to have experienced. On the contrary if someone sits down for a spiritual practice but gets lost in thought for the next hour thinking of his or her school days and school friends and feels great and light in the head at the end of it, it is treated as a daydream. This is also the same reason why an out of body experience is treated as a more spiritual experience than the feeling of bliss while lying on your couch on a Sunday afternoon reading your favourite book.

The truth is that no spiritual experience is better or worse. Driving a bigger and fancier car is no superior to riding on a bullock cart or vice versa. They are both different experiences and have their own places in the scheme of things. The same applies to spirituality. To grow spiritually, one needs to be one with the spiritual pursuit and experience. Stepping out of that and focusing on ideas like superiority of the spiritual experience and spiritual tenure takes people several steps back or at best keeps them marking time.