Unperturbable Byron Katie

I have been reading some of the works of Byron Katie. Her main process is simply called “The Work”, or “inquiry”, which, by name, is reminiscent of Ramana Maharishi’s “self-enquiry”, but has a different approach and format. In her books, A Thousand Names for Joy (a discussion of The Tao Te Ching) and Loving What Is, Katie explains her main process which involves questioning thoughts we hold to be true, and effectively deconstructing our beliefs so we realise nothing is inherently true.

I admit that I was slightly blown away by reading A Thousand Names for Joy. Katie’s way of describing the world is so unconventional that I could only read a bit at a time. But I always wanted to come back. Katie confesses she had been depressed and suicidal for many years. She describes a moment of transformation in which a cockroach crawled across her foot, and she realised she no longer needed to suffer by believing these things that went through her mind, called thoughts. She doesn’t believe in mind-control; she speaks of accepting whatever comes up, be it anger, remorse, loss, death, birth, or whatever, and advises questioning our beliefs around these occurrences.

Poetically written with sensual turns of language, her ideas resonate deeply with the philosophies of Advaita Vedanta and Buddhism. But she had never been exposed to any eastern teaching: she didn’t even know what “namaste” meant and thought that when people greeted her with the Sanskrit word (meaning “the god in me sees the god in you”), they were actually saying “no mistake”, because according to her awakened way of living, reality makes “no mistake”.

The book has excerpts from her work with different people suffering with different issues. One man she writes about was a prisoner who held a great deal of anger. He wrote down the reason for his rage, which was that he could not forgive his wife for burning their house down, which resulted in his daughter losing her life. Deeply traumatic to read about, Byron Katie described how this man was able to do The Work or inquiry in order to see that he didn’t need his daughter to be alive, and he could not know for sure that she was truly gone. There are many other excerpts relating to people’s issues with jealousy, fear and possessiveness.

Katie also describes a moment when her bag was stolen. She says she felt a great joy at wondering about the treasures the thief would find in her bag, that were no longer meant for herself. Another incident she describes is being held at gun point by someone who wanted to kill her. She felt little fear, knowing that the attacker could not have done anything other than believe his thoughts.

I found it wondrous to read Katie’s book, and I think she is a great example of someone who is living the truth of spiritual oneness. In Ramaji’s book, 1000, he lists the levels of consciousness of current spiritual teachers, and he has ranked Byron Katie as enlightened. I agree that only someone with an enlightened awareness could have written such a book.


Mysteries of perspective

Very often as I am walking down the road or doing something quite ordinary, I notice that the sky is streaked with red light, or there is complete silence all around. Perspective changes within seconds from the micro to the macro, and I feel like a small (but still relevant) part of a huge design.

We are aware of so much more than we know, and a small shift in perspective can lead to big shifts in our lives and even in our universes. We know that we only use a very small part of our minds at any given moment, and that subconsciously we are aware of much much more. If you close your eyes whilst in a moving vehicle, you may find that you can visualise the road ahead before it even appears. We have awareness beyond our awareness! But habitual activities take so much of our power away from all that is going on, and we get so influenced by what everyone else does that we forget to tune into our own minds.

Recently I have met some truly inspiring friends and colleagues who remind me of my own magic. I realise that the world of conventional, habitual things drains me because it’s all been done before, so many times. I do enjoy the day to day, but only if I am able to balance it by having time to reflect, think about the hows and whys in the corridors of my own mind. And another thing that’s become so clear is that the corridors of our mind are linked together.

Thoughts on the new year

I’ve been thinking about a new way to view life as 2011 comes to life. Life is about constant growth and learning. Without an expansion of thought, there can be no real progress – even on a very personal, individual level. It’s not just about reaching certain goals, but understanding what my core values are. Because goals are only achievable if they fit into the framework of our values.

I have realised over the past few years that the power of collective thought is not just a ‘concept’, but a living truth. People think it’s silly to talk about ideas without objective, scientific examples. There are plenty of examples for lots of things, but personal experience is the greatest revealer. Most things taking place on a physical level are the results of thoughts. When the thoughts are aligned to a higher plane of consciousness, they lead to actions of growth. Growth does not mean easy experiences; the greatest growth occurs through difficult experiences.

So, I’ve made a list of the things that give me greatest fulfilment:
1. Creativity
2. Inspiring human interactions
3. Letting go of old experiences

And then thought of activities I could do to practise more of these things. There are no set resolutions, and no guarantee that everything that happens will be ‘easy’, but my intention is to move towards the things that matter most.

Open to miracles!

Miracles are happening ALL THE TIME, but how often are we aware of these wonders? We unknowingly plunge into mundane, auto-pilot behaviour so many times, hence missing out on many synchronicities and magical encounters. Just being absorbed in thoughts of the past or the future robs us of our ability to see the miracles of life. Simple everyday existence is miraculous. The rainfall, sunlight, ability to connect, communicate, share, be solitary, read, walk, breathe, comprehend, laugh – it’s all miraculous…When we enjoy these things wholly, surrendering to the present moment, it opens the door for other chance encounters, for greater miracles.

To be open to miracles, we have to live in the present moment. We are here right now, and nothing else exists right now except this. Attitude is important. We have to see ourselves as worthy of the Universe’s love. When you think of limitations in your life, instead of feeling dejected, take heart in the fact that others out there have succeeded with those very limitations. Perspective can transform limitation into opportunity. There are opportunities for miracles just waiting to happen…

This life divine

Everyone has their own reason for coming onto this earth, but humankind is collectively facing a need and desire for self-awareness right now, as oppositions of experience (pain/pleasure, wealth/poverty, love/hate) are becoming more intense – and not just in society in general, but also within the day-to-day reality of individuals. Everything is intensifying, and some are boldly facing the chaos while others are running off to the mountains to find some peace (and finding that the chaos is still there in their minds, inviting the same kind of situations in the remotest of places). This is the classic ‘fight or flight’ reaction of the prehistoric human, and it is based around the belief in FEAR. There is A LOT of fear in the world today. The fight or flight response was useful when we needed to run or contend with threatening animals, but to the modern human, this response is useless and harmful. The fear we are dealing with different from that of our ancestors – ours is a fear of the unknown.

This fear is a necessary part of the journey that brings a person into contact with his or her divine purpose. The fear makes us question: what are we afraid of? Through a series of questions, contemplation and insights, we are able to make certain changes that can lead us to experience the MOST FULFILLING LIFE IMAGINABLE.

We are truly involved in the way our karma plays out. Actions have consequences, but there is a place for grace and revelation in all this. We are deeply responsible for every layer of our experience, and we can change everything in our lives if we want to. It IS possible to lead a life of total love, beauty and joy, but it requires a great deal of self-awareness, patience, will-power and love.

The beauty of silence

There is constant noise in the world around us. And then there is constant noise inside us too: the mind which does not stop. If you’re like most people, you’ll notice your mind is making judgements about everything. Before you even realise it, the mind has flown to this place and that, and you’re definitely not in control of where it goes.

Sometimes the noise outside is a comfort. It distracts us from ourselves, and it stops us having to face our own thoughts. Sometimes we contribute to the noise by talking and judging, gossiping without even thinking about what we are saying. At night, everything comes back to us in our solitude and we might find it difficult to truly rest. This is the nature of the adult human mind.

Very young children don’t have the words and ideas to make constant judgements in their minds; they tend to live from moment to moment. They are more at peace with themselves, but they are prey to the outside noise too, and they become restless living in a restless world.

For our own mental health and for that of our communities, it’s important to learn both silence within and silence without. This does not mean stopping communication; it means deepening our ability to communicate so that fewer words and gestures can achieve more expression. There is time to speak and reveal, and also time to be silent and observe without judgement.

Silence is beautiful because it allows us to see things we might have missed. There are patterns in nature which we can observe in silence. Love communicated without words is one of the most powerful expressions of silence.

It’s hard to change habits. The habits of judging, gossiping, getting irritable and complaining have become second nature to a lot of us. But people can change the way their minds work, with repeated practice. Even ten minutes a day observing thoughts as they come, and then letting them go is enough to give you an idea of how your mind works. And then gradually, thoughts will pass more slowly and sitting in silent observation will become more pleasurable.

Being vegetarian

As a young child, I used to eat all kinds of meat and fish. In fact, I don’t even like to mention some of the kinds of meat that I happily ate. But as the years wore on, I began questioning meat on every level. Now I’ve been 100% vegetarian for about eleven years.

I honestly don’t know why meat began bothering me in the first place. I used to love the taste, but at around age seven, I began disliking the flavour. After that, I began associating meat with the act of killing and bloodshed. A lot of people argue that it’s natural for humans to be omnivores, but I feel we’ve reached a state of consciousness in which what we eat is a choice, not just an instinct. It may feel ‘natural’ to start a fight with someone or to be promiscuous, but we make conscious decisions which instincts we should follow through with – that’s what makes us responsible individuals and allows societies to progress. Even primitive societies display such traits of consciousness – it’s the hallmark of human evolution. I think being vegetarian is an important choice, both for the individual and for the ecological systems we contribute to. Animals live on instinct, but in a way which is in sync with nature. The way in which we consume meat these days is definitely not in sync with nature.

The meat industry keeps and produces livestock in a very ecologically-unfriendly way just in order to make money. The natural balances of the food chain are disrupted and the proliferation of diseases becomes much higher. I realise that vegetables are grown in artificial ways too, and that there are now options to buy organic meat, but despite all this, the risks of producing meat are always less natural and more detrimental in terms of self-sufficiency, the environment and individual health. A lot of people think that vegetarians miss out on vital food elements, specially protein. But this is simply not true if someone follows a balanced diet. For all these reasons, I think it’s worth being vegetarian.

Where to live – east or west?

My husband and I have been living in India for over two years now. After being settled in the UK, we relocated to the east for work reasons. Now we’re about to have a baby, I’ve been thinking a lot about which society is best to settle in – the east or the west?

Our background is that we’re both British Indian (Indian origin but were brought up in the UK when our parents emigrated there for their careers). Now our parents are retired and resettled in India, which is an unusual trend even today (migrating back to the homeland after 30 years working and living abroad). My husband was born in the UK and I was born in India; his family is originally South Indian and mine North Indian – but apart from those differences, we have a very similar cultural identity. We were raised in a British society, with British friends and pastimes, but our family life was Indian. As a result, we’ve become very mixed in our cultural outlook, and open to living in different societies.

There are so many considerations when it comes to deciding where to live. One is work and finances, then there’s the environment, social values, education, family life and, the all-important, everyday lifestyle. In almost every category, the west has a more established infrastructure which we find easier to live with, but then again in every category, the east offers more variety and unpredictability which makes life more exciting. In terms of health and safety, environmental awareness, education, I prefer the west’s sense of order. But our family is now mainly in the east, so social values and everyday lifestyle are better for us in India right now. I also like the fact that the sun comes out everyday, as it does have an uplifting effect. It’s a very difficult decision between logic and emotion (west=logic, east=emotion).

To some extent, as the recession looms, the decision is not entirely up to us. We’ll have to consider the work situation at the end of the year and that will be one of the priorities for where to settle. I think raising a child in a safe and secure environment is important, but a bit of unpredictability and a richer family life are important too.

What India means to me

Map of India

I have developed a very strange relationship with my motherland.

I was born in India, but my parents took me to the UK when I was five years old. They tried to come back and settle in their homeland twice during my childhood, but it never worked. They were absorbed in their medical careers, which required them to be in the UK.

My sister and I spent a couple of brief school years in India, looked after by grandmothers and other relatives while my parents went back and forth between continents, trying to manage work and family life. For both my sister and me, India was our first home, our native country, undisputedly. As a young child who had known no other territory, ‘Mr India’ was my favourite film. But gradually, everything I took for granted as my natural identity became questionable.

As I struggled and succeeded to learn British English in London, my grip on Hindi began to falter. As I became accustomed to my friends’ ways of being and doing things, the memories of my childhood home began to fade. Those brief spells in which we tried to come back to India were like a temporary reawakening – a door to the past that would open and pour its wisdom into me for a short time before shutting again. My relatives thought I had become ‘angrez’, even thought I hardly thought of myself that way. In India. I became ‘different’, and in the UK, I was ‘different’ too.

So now, years later as I write this, I am very aware of what India represents to me. It’s more than just an idea; it’s a reality that I feel everyday. It’s huge and complex, something that I won’t ever be able to explain fully. Every time I feel a sense of ‘Indianness’, I am aware there is a ‘Britishness’ which rests uncomfortably alongside this. After all, the countries struggled against each other historically, precisely because their identities could not integrate fully with each other.

Whenever I am in India, it’s tempting to see stereotypes all around me: spiritualists, poverty, chaos, consumerism. Only when I actually talk to people personally – the rickshaw wallahs, relatives and their neighbours, dry-cleaners and taxi drivers – I see the reality behind the overpowering image of India. The authenticity of other people’s cultural behaviour allows me to see what it means to be Indian.

Despite this feeling of identification, I disagree with the concept of national identity (the idea that an individual can be defined by which country they come from). I see my identity as drawing from, yet separate from, nationality and culture. What I understand about India is cultural rather than political, although I’m aware that there is a connection between culture and politics which cannot be ignored. Even the naming of a country is political and represents a territorial division.

What is Enlightenment?

Being and not being all at once.

Discerning without judgement.

Relishing the luxury within simplicity.

Not needing another’s gaze to behold one’s Self.

Being at one with every other, but apart from everyone.

Dying in each moment before being reborn.

Being enriched by solitude, but finding solitude within company.

Observing the action, playing the part, but watching one’s self as you play.

Embracing afflictions as a test of endurance.

Being compassionately detached.