Don’t Run Away From Boredom

Article in the Mindscape Section of the November 2016 Issue of Stayfit Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran

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Before I started writing this article, I went onto Google and ran a search with the terms “How To Get Bored”. The results were hilarious. Nine out of the ten results on the first search page were about how to kill boredom. “5 Ways To Overcome Boredom”, “17 Things To Do When You Are Bored Out Of Your Mind” and “10 Ways to Conquer Boredom” were among the search results.
If you have kids at home, you probably hear about getting bored way too often. And unfortunately, a lot of parents resort to the quickest escape route of handing them the iPad, smart phone, laptop or switching on the television for them. Pop culture today seems to be hooked on to ways of getting rid of Boredom with a vengeance. With an endless list of suggestions like, meet new people, join a class, travel, develop a hobby, volunteer, do this and do that. Why? What’s the problem? It’s not a sin to be bored. On the contrary, boredom can be a fabulous way to get more out of life. Here’s how.
First of all, boredom helps in sparking new ideas. The famous writer Robert M. Pirsig, who’s considered to be one of the most widely read philosophers still alive, said that boredom always precedes a period of great creativity. Another one of his famous quotes on Zen and nothingness alludes to the same thing and it reads, “If you stare at a wall from four in the morning till nine at night, and you do that for a week, you are getting pretty close to nothingness”.

Secondly, getting bored gives you the great opportunity of getting more time for yourself. Most often, when you hear people say that they don’t have time, they’re talking about not having time to do the things that they want to do in life. In a generation that patronizes multitasking, getting more done in less time and keeping busy as opposed to living and experiencing a richer life and stopping to smell the roses, many don’t realize that getting bored is the opposite of whizzing past life and missing out on it. In fact, I think, children should get bored. It’s a great way to get them to be more creative and experience time and life in its completeness. The same applies to adults. A lot of adults today don’t give themselves even the remotest chance of getting bored. Even a long weekend is filled with activities and things to do. And before you know it, you’re back at work.

Third and most importantly, boredom is a sure shot way to help people look inward. A lot of your goals, visions, aspirations, dreams, likes, dislikes and desires are happening inside of you. All you need to do is look. But if you’re so distracted with the world around you and the zillion demands that you put on yourself, then you’re bound to drift aimlessly in the high seas. Jim Morrison, the American song writer and the lead singer of the rock band “The Doors”, has this wonderful old aphorism about people.

Those who race toward death.
Those who wait.
Those who worry.

Don’t be among the ones who race toward death or the ones who worry. Just wait. The next time you get bored, don’t reach for your phone, start an activity or schedule new plans. Just wait. Let the boredom set in. Sit through it, experience it, learn to be with it and relish it. You’ll get a good glimpse of who you are, what makes you tick and what you should actually be doing in life.

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Are You Suffering From Compassion Fatigue

Actual Compassion Fatigue was a term first referred to in a U.S. document on immigration policy in the early 1980s. It refers to the progressive fading away of compassion among individuals who need to express high levels of compassion as a result of the work they do or because of the life situations they are in.

In my view, the legitimate version of compassion fatigue that results from a continuous exposure to painful situations is clearly understandable. For example, taking care of a bed ridden family member for a prolonged period of time, going through a complicated and traumatic divorce that is spread over years or working a job that involves exposure to people in some sort of pain or trauma. But today, people seem to be victims of compassion fatigue even when there’s nothing in particular to be fatigued about. I’m more interested in talking about the 21st century variant of compassion fatigue, where it’s not just trauma or pain but various other emotions that people are fatigued towards. There is an overload of exposure today towards certain dimensions of life and this in turn leads to people becoming numb to what an acceptable dose of the related emotions might be.

Though leading bodies in the world, like the World Health Organization and the American Psychiatric Association are yet to accept compassion fatigue as an actual diagnosis, there’s simply no debate about a gradual numbing effect that occurs to people’s reactions and perceptions to certain things due to over exposure. Versions of compassion fatigue, in my view are present in several walks of life, even if you’re not in a job that requires taking care of others or showing compassion. The phenomena of eating and drinking out regularly, divorces, depression, traffic jams or long commutes, and several other negative hallmarks of big cities have gone up so much that you might well be partaking in the madness and not realizing it.

For example, in the corporate world, the incessant cribbing that I often hear from people who I meet almost makes job dissatisfaction a given. Monday morning blues and TGIF are accepted norms in most parts of the world. To the extent that if you don’t complain about your job, you might actually stick out like a sore thumb in some organizations.

Another roaring example is social media. With the ever increasing popularity of Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp and Snapchat, a segment of people are simply too used to sharing every single detail about themselves with the rest of the world. As a result, the sharing quotient of most social media users in the world has gone through the roof. More importantly, there’s this constant pressure of having to portray a good life as if your existing life and what you have is seriously flawed.

The great danger of a continuous exposure to excesses is that it warps your sense of what’s acceptable and what you actually feel like. Don’t get so used to broadcasting your life that privacy means nothing to you anymore. Don’t chase your financial dreams so hard that you’re unable to enjoy the money you already have. Don’t be so obsessed with trying to look better that you stop appreciating your personality and charm. As the Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich put it, “Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they’ve faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine.”

Most importantly, Don’t be so caught up in trying to live a successful life that you forget to live a happy one.

The Neutral Line Phenomenon

Article in the Mindscape Section of the July 2016 Issue of Stayfit Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran

Ask yourself how you feel right now on a scale of 1 to 10. 1 being horrible and 10 being awesome. Now how do you feel today in comparison to other days on the same rating scale? You could extend this inquiry into an assessment of how you feel this week, this month or even this year. We all have days that are a 10 or even a 14 while on the other hand, there are days that are a 1 or 0. While it’s absolutely normal to experience these highs and lows, the larger question is where do you spend most of your time? I mean towards which end of the feel good scale?

The neutral line phenomenon is a concept I’ve used to get answers to some of the above questions and process those answers to live a better and more fulfilling life. The neutral line phenomenon refers to an imaginary line that is in between the highs and lows, that indicates habitual behaviour or your customary state. Someone, who at any given point of time feels they are at a 10 probably has a higher neutral line compared to someone who on most days feels they are at a 1 or 2. While 1, 2, 10 or 14 are just numbers on an imaginary feel good scale, the neutral line is real. It is your habitual behaviour or state and in turn is a true assessment of the kind of life that you might be leading. The people who are living an awesome life, are actually the ones who are feeling like a million dollars most of the time while people who are going through a mundane existence or even living a life of struggles are the ones who are feeling down and out or oppressed most of the time. There is absolutely no point having a high net worth, buying a mansion, taking fancy vacations, getting to the top of the corporate ladder or even retiring at 30 if you don’t feel good. Rest assured that you’ve had a pretty lousy year, if you spent the whole year working a job that you hated and doing other things that you were forced to and that you hated yourself for, just to take that 10 day international vacation in December. What this does is that it puts your neutral line way close to the zero mark. On the other hand if you at least did that lousy job for 5 days a week but had a blast during the weekends doing the things that you absolutely looked forward to, then that immediately puts your neutral line closer to a 4 or a 5. Now imagine that you were doing a job that you loved from Monday through Friday and you had other interesting passions that you spent your weekends being involved in and to cap it all you also took that lovely vacation at the end of the year. Now that is when your neutral line would hovering around the 10 mark. I’m sure you get the picture. The bottom line is to push up your neutral line. Rather than aim for those isolated high times of your life that are far and few between, do what it takes to feel good more often and to increase the intensity of that feeling. And I don’t mean do whatever it takes.

Someone whose neutral line is at the happy level, on good days feels happier and on great days feels elated. While for someone whose neutral line is at the depressed level, even the great days are just slightly sad days.

 

The Gradual Slip Effect

Article in the Mindscape Section of the April 2016 Issue of Stayfit Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran

There was this incident that a friend narrated to me about the first time she went to live with her grandmother for a week. Now her grandmother was an independent old woman who lived alone ever since she was widowed and on the day of my friend’s visit, there were other guests there too. At the dinner table, on the spotlessly clean table cloth, first of all there was a spread of delicious food, there was awesome cutlery, the appropriate wine glasses, hand towels, beetroots and carrots cut in the shape of flowers, also actual flowers on side tables that sent out a wonderful fragrance in the room and so on. The next day there were no guests and it was just my friend and her grandmother for dinner but all these arrangements remained. And the next day and the next. So on the fifth day, my friend asked her grandmother why she went through the trouble of making all these special arrangements for dinner even on days when they didn’t have any guests. Her grandmother replied, “It all starts with one small slip my dear. At first you think the fresh flowers aren’t necessary. Then you wonder why you have to cut those carrots and beetroots into designs if nobody else is going to see them. Then you use regular wine glasses instead of goblets. Eventually even the food you cook gets reduced to the “easy to cook” and run of the mill dishes until you are finally eating takeaway sandwiches or cup noodles in your couch”.

The insight from her grandmother’s advice is what I call the Gradual Slip Effect. First and foremost, it is a phenomenon that comes into play only when a person already has an established positive behaviour or habit and when the slip happens, that gradually starts to fade. It is applicable to wellbeing as much as it is to the overall quality of life and various dimensions of it. You never move from having a flat abdomen to having a pot belly over night. The slip happens very gradually. So gradually, that even if you put a camera in front of the person, it’ll be weeks before you notice any change. If you’re a person who’s been working out regularly, it’s quite unlikely that you stop cold turkey. You know the gradual slip effect is at work when you move from working out every day, to taking Sundays off, to taking the whole weekend off, to taking a mid week “recovery” break, to working out at least twice a week to eventually justifying to yourself that if you’re working out just once a week, you might as well not do it at all and then you quit altogether. The same is true with the start of various other behaviours including the usual suspects like drinking, smoking and eating junk food. It starts with being a teetotaller (your established positive behaviour), then shifts to being a social drinker, then an “only weekend” drinker, and I think you know the rest. People develop new behaviours (both good and bad ones) gradually. It is a really precious minority that is able to change a behaviour in one shot. The idea is to catch yourself with a slip that could be ever so slight and ensure that you bring yourself back on track before things go spiralling downwards. If you are a calm and composed person who’s been noticing of late that you are developing a short temper, it would do you good to catch yourself when you are experiencing even an iota of an irritation and correcting that behaviour before you are screaming your lungs out at someone and burning precious relationship bridges.

By the way, there’s no hard and fast rule that you need to workout every single day or that you must drink only socially or even that people must always be calm and composed. That’s clearly not what I am prescribing. People must have the freedom to do what they want to in life. Awareness of phenomena like the “Gradual Slip Effect” and using that awareness to your advantage ensures the development of positive behaviours and healthy habits far more easily.

You Can Shoot Yourself. But You Can’t Stop Communicating

Article in the Life Coach Section of the August 2014 Issue of H&Y Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran

A lot of conventional literature on communication would talk about how human communication starts from the moment the child is born and goes on till a person’s last breath. In fact the actual process of communication starts well before the child is born, almost from the moment of conception. The embryo communicates its presence to the mother through chemical changes in the body with related mood and emotional implications. The growing mass of cells communicates the need for a particular kind of care for the mother. The unborn baby on the verge of entering the big wide world communicates through the mother, the need to be rushed to the hospital at the end of the gestation period and so on.

Communication being such a fundamental element of human existence, it continues to play a crucial role throughout a person’s life. While the difference between verbal and non verbal communication has been common knowledge from the past several decades, it is still quite common for people who want to stop communicating with someone else to merely stop talking to them. Unfortunately, silence is one of the most powerful modes of communication. A few seconds of silence in a conversation or a dramatic pause can sometimes convey far more than several minutes of dialogue. Not only can silence convey a person’s unwillingness to communicate but it can also convey a person’s real emotions. Feelings of anger, shame, guilt, bliss, comfort and discomfort can be conveyed through silence. Another close cousin of silence in the arena of communication is Absence.

  • The idea of the teacher marking students absent after a long explanation of student carelessness and the need for them to be more regular to class.
  • Party hosts in social situations remembering the guests who didn’t show up for the party, long after the occasion is over.
  • Friends, colleagues and family members spending hours discussing others who aren’t even there to share the moment.

Many a times, your absence speaks much louder than your presence.

There are also the quiet ones who think their communication is best demonstrated through their actions. What they do, the way they care for others, the commitments they live up to and the overall behaviour they demonstrate. While there is no debate on the fact that your actions are a powerful mode of communication, the point that is often missed out is the communicating power of Inaction.

  • Restaurants that are given poor feedback by their customers and don’t do anything about it communicate their “We Don’t Care” attitude.
  • People who get blamed for no fault of theirs but don’t speak up or clarify their point, communicate their low level of self respect.
  • And people who have dreams and aspirations but don’t take any action towards realizing them communicate their laziness or poor appetite for life.

Finally, another factoid that the traditional books on communication missed out is that the process of communication does not in fact stop with your last breath. Dead people communicate the need to be put to rest by others. Their absence in turn communicates the need for their loved ones to make adjustments and move on. Obituary messages and posthumous awards and recognitions are other classic examples of how your communication could outlive you.

Reproducing Excellence

Article in the Life Coach Section of the July 2014 Issue of H&Y Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran

When Arnold Schwarzenegger was asked in an interview about how he went on to become a successful Hollywood star, his answer was remarkably simple. He said something that really highlighted the essence of NLP.

NLP stands for Neuro Linguistic Programming and it has been a bit of a buzzword for the past couple of decades. Essentially, NLP is a way of achieving the outcomes you want by using thought, language and behaviour appropriately. In other words, it is a way to create and reproduce excellence by coding some of the elements and principles of excellence. One such principle is that if someone can do something well, you can reproduce that. More importantly, if you can do something well, then you can reproduce that in other areas of your life too. This means that excellence has a structure and pattern linked to it. Once you understand this structure, what you’re actually doing is capturing the source code of excellence.

There is a 45 year old banker, Tanya (name changed) whom I coached a few months ago to improve her interpersonal skills, both at work and otherwise. In our very first conversation it became apparent that while it was extremely difficult for her to get along well with people, she was exceptional when it came to cooking. In fact, she was known among her extended family and her husband’s circle of friends as the grumpy woman who is an amazing cook. On closer examination and questioning, it turned out that what actually made her a good cook were the following:

  1. She read a lot of books and articles on cooking.
  2. She cooked whenever she got a chance to.
  3. She kept cooking a dish time and again till she got it absolutely right and people acknowledged that.
  4. When a dish she cooked didn’t come out right, she looked at it as feedback and learned lessons from it so that she could get it right the next time around.
  5. She was always smiling while she cooked, because she loved doing it.

The turnaround in Tanya’s interpersonal skills happened within a month from our first conversation. All she had to do was apply her code for cooking, when she interacted with people.

  1. So Tanya began to read books and articles about interpersonal skills.
  2. She began to interact with people whenever she got an opportunity to.
  3. If one style of communication or interaction with a person did not work, she tried another and then another, till she got the outcome she wanted.
  4. When an interaction or conversation with someone didn’t go well, she looked for feedback from that situation so that she could correct and improve herself.
  5. Most importantly, she smiled a lot more when she interacted with people.

A combination of all these new patterns really changed the entire game for Tanya who is now beginning to be seen as more of a people person. Therefore, the secrets to excellence lie with you; it’s just a matter of understanding and reproducing them in other areas of your life.

And that was Arnold Schwarzenegger’s response in the interview. He said that to become a successful actor, one of the major things he did was to look at his body building career. He spent time understanding what exactly he did to become Mr. Universe thrice and the I.F.B.B. Mr. Olympia seven times. He then applied the same principles to his acting career and that greatly contributed to making him the Hollywood star that he is today.

Five Steps To A New Behaviour

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

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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.

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/

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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/

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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.