Monday, 2 March 2015

A blog with its title at the end and a question.

Don’t we all live in a world that is moving a very fast pace? Earth itself moves at an incredibly fast speed of 1,600 km per hour roughly (460 meters per second) at the equator. Therefore, when it comes to living anywhere on the planet Earth, none have a choice but live in fast paced world. But that’s about our bodies and physical matters around us.
If someone had asked the question with regards to the pace of our minds? Well then, it would be practically impossible for the science (that we know) to answer this question because everyone’s mind is busy at a different speed.
Isn’t that we often notice some are with slower and some have a very fast mentation? But again, we are aren’t talking about mentation. Here, I’m talking about a very silent but amazingly powerful activity (both in creative and destructive sense) that takes place in our minds that we seldom care to notice about. Our minds pace is often frantic. It is always busy doing something, not allowing itself to take a moment of rest, not even during sleep (because it likes to dream). And what are we doing to help this busy companion mind of ours? Nothing, and nothing at all. In fact we are fighting stillness every step of the way. We are all, thinking, writing, marching, shouting, sermoning all the time----Keep Moving. Hahaha.
Several amongst us read books and newspapers in the bathroom, in trains and flights, even while walking on the office corridors, pavements and streets. They were paper books and newspapers earlier, now these books and newspapers are on our smart phones, tabs and pads.  The bottom-line is that we are all clamoring for more information, data and facts to extract more juice and fun for life.
Every movement of ours in this modern world is centered on our connectivity, its human being instinctual need. It could be physical, optical or electronic. Initially modes of faster connectivity (through land, water and air and now electronic) brought us all together by shrinking the world into a global village. However, before we could realize these modes of faster connectivity, which broke our physical limitations of boundaries have already shattered traditional joint family systems.  In the past villages and communities were formed by a dozen or even less numbers of family clans, each with 3-4 generations living together, but not anymore. Now sons and grandsons live either in separate house or in different place and our neighbor is an unknown similarly dislocated son or a grandson of a different village or city.
Real-time visual and voice connectivity at lightning speeds are taking this toll even further, where nuclear families have started getting disconnected to living and working apart and coming together only on weekends or whilst holidaying. To be happy, peaceful and to feel secure, every living creature needs proximity of its loved and related being; be it a human or an animal of land, underground, water or air.  Modern connectivity has failed to deliver “togetherness” -great necessity in today’s hyperlinked world, where we can know anything, at any time in several different ways and formats.
Most of us think that meditation is all about stopping/ controlling and even crushing our thoughts, in order to get rid of emotions. On the contrary it is not about controlling the mind or thoughts. It is something very different from it. It’s more like taking a pause in our fast paced lives, take step backwards, and trying to observe our endless thought process as calmly as possible. It’s about taking a role of an unattached witness, who observes thoughts coming and going — without judgment, attachment, joy or pain but with a fully relaxed but an alert mind.
The facts is distractions are everywhere. Many question, as seeker and some as skeptics; if meditation can improve ones creativity and focus? Maybe, but it depends on what kind of meditation one is engaged in. Some scientific explorations   have been undertaken in to various types of meditation methods; c.f. (a) focused-attention (in which ones focuses on own breathing) and (b) open-monitoring or Zen meditation (where participants observes internal thoughts as they come and go and external or bodily effects) and (c) Loving-kindness meditation. Researchers at Leiden University at Netherlands have obeserved that creative thinking can be positively influenced by two of the widely practiced methods; focused attention and open-monitoring meditation techniques. Meditating subjects after practicing mindful stillness demonstrated increased ability to generate new ideas and solutions to given experimental problems in the study1.
There are many achievers who have found or enhanced their creativity in mindful stillness. John Lennon, George Harrison, Yehudi Menuhin and many other prolific singers, writers and fortune 500 company owners, CEO’s, celebrities and world leaders admitted to have gained in their artistic, literary and societal pursuits with less tension and resistance and with a more effective application of mind and aptitude. Acclaimed Rock n' Roll artist Leonard Cohen and Travel writer Iyer, chose stillness in their lives going nowhere for their creations and adventures. Obviously, in the stillness of No-where they could find something that they could not have found Any-where.
Obviously in “No-where of meditative stillness” they found a heightened state of consciousness of their mind, which was beyond their reach “Any-where”. Many proclaim that perform meditation but the fact is that “meditation is not an activity that one can perform, it’s a state  of mind that one has to be in”.
Unfortunately although meditation is very popular few know what meditation actually is. Most consider meditation as an exercise of mental concentration on a object, outside or within our mind or something. Rest feel that during meditation we need to imagine something to achieve a state of peace or satisfaction. In reality, it is a state of vivid awareness, where the mind is alert and aware, and yet thoughtless. For an uninitiated not practicing individual It is difficult to have no thought in one's mind, but Energy Chakra’s (Kundalini) in our autonomic system helps us to achieve this state, once awakened through Self Realization.
All methods of meditation have one goal in common to slow down with an near impossible aim to completely stop the unending thoughts coming and going through our minds. Thus meditation is a state of thoughtless awareness. It is not an act of doing - it is a state of mindful awareness. We either are in this state or we are not, regardless of the activity we are doing. In fact, one can be in the state of meditation while performing routine worldly activities as another can be very far from meditative stillness even when sitting with eyes closed for hours or days in a jungle or on the top of a mountain.
Many saints, prophets and enlightened souls have described the state of meditation. But the actual process of achieving it is still a mystery, the great unknown secret to the happiness and peace in life.
1: Focused attention, open monitoring and loving kindness meditation: effects on attention, conflict monitoring ,and creativity–A review Dominique P. Lippelt, Bernhard Hommel and Lorenza S. Colzato September 2014 | Volume5 | Article 1083 | Pages 1-5 |
Before I conclude, if I may ask-

What Do You Think Of Making Efforts To Be In Meditation At Least for 10 minutes, Everyday?

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Makar Sankranti – Lohri – Pongal – Bihu – Magh: The Medicine Behind It.

Today is an auspicious day, day that marks the sun’s entry in to the ‘Makar (Capricorn) Rashi’. The word Sankranti means “change of direction” and the sun change its direction north words on the day of maker Sankranti. It’s the time to start a dip in the holy waters of mother Ganges at sun rise and at sunset and say goodbye to winter foods.

The eve of the day is celebrated as Lohri making it as the last day of winter and Maker Sankranti as the first day of the summer. Makar Sankranti is celebrated in different states of nation with different names. In Tamil Nadu it is called Pongal. In Assam it is celebrated as Magh Bihu and Bhogal Bihu. In states of Punjab and Haryana it is celebrated as Lohri festival. In Uttar Pradesh it is celebrated as Khichdi or Donation festival. In Bihar it is known as Til Sankranti or Khichdi festival.

The period begins from 14 January (Makar Sankranti) and lasts till 14 July, is known as Uttarayana (“Uttar” North and “Ayan” movement towards). The earth, farthest from the sun at this point of time, starts its journey towards the sun, thus ending the coldest month of the year (peak winter), Paush, and announcing the beginning of the month of Magh. Dakshinayana (remaining six months period of the year) is the night of the deities where as Uttarayana is their day. It is the day when the Sun begins its movement away from the tropic of Capricorn and towards the northern hemisphere and thus it signifies an event wherein the Sun-God seems to remind their children that 'Tamaso Ma Jyotirgamaya'—may you go higher and higher, to more and more Light and never to Darkness.

As Bhisham Pitamah in Mahabharata waited for this period to relieve from his body, the Bhagavad Gita undeniably records it as an extremely sacred and auspicious time when in Bhagavad Gita, the Lord says, “I am Uttarayana among the Ayanas.” And in chapter-8, shloka-24 Lord Krishna says; “Those who know the Supreme Brahman attain that Supreme by passing away from the world during the influence of the fiery god, in the light, at an auspicious moment of the day, during the fortnight of the waxing moon, or during the six months when the sun travels in the north.”

According to the Hindu Mythological Puranas, on this day Surya (Sun) visits the house of his son Shani (Saturn), who is the lord of the Makara rashi (Capricorn zodiac). Though the father and son duo did not get along well, the Surya made it a point to meet his son on this day. He, in fact, comes to his son's house, for a month. Thus this day symbolises with the importance of the special relationship between father and son.

On the day of Makar Sankranti we all fly kites for enjoyment (is it only for it?). We also get Vitamin D, for strengthing our bones and now we also know that adequate levels of vit D is also repsonsible for many other health benfits like prevention of heart diseases, kideney diseases and others by sunbathing. The rays of sun, when falls in our eyes heals several ophthalmological ailments.

Significance of Til (Sesame) Ke Laddoo On Makar Sankranti: Consumption of Til’s (Seasame) preparation like Laddu, Gajak or Tilpatti in the season starting from Makar Sankranti is considered medicinal. We know now that Sesame seeds (Til) are rich source of iron & Jaggery (GUD) a high-energy food that is also rich in dietary iron. In fact, Til is also one of the richest sources of iron amongst vegetarian foods.

The preparation of sweets made with Til and Jaggery has beneficial significance as they are considered warm food items in Ayurveda and so when combined with Jaggery makes a extremely healthy combination delivering many health benefits along with keeping people warm from within. Scientific studies reveal that during winters our BMR or basal metabolic rate is reduced.

BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) is a measure of body's basic metabolic functions. It is also the simplest measure of estimating the minimum amount of energy required to sustain our life, when no physical activity is performed. If BMR gets reduced the amount of energy that we are unable to consume from our diet gets converted and deposited into body's fat than utilized, an important cause of obesity and Type-2 diabetes and cardio metabolic risks associated with it. However, when body sees a emergency situation (during fasting, starvation period and during the cold months decrease in BMR is beneficial for survival as happens in cold blooded invertebrate animals and even in warm blooded animals living in extreme weather conditions of the Artic and Antarctic during hibernation. This regulation is mediated through our brain centres that send signals the body physiology to store more body-fat for future use to fulfil energy requirement.

Another scientific fact is during the low BMR days, our pulse rate & pumping of heart blood volume (cardiac output) becomes lesser compared to high activity period and warm seasons. When the rate of blood circulation gets reduced, the rate of oxygen supply to various parts of body too gets affected. To overcome this situation body needs to produce more of RBC's (the red blood cells; oxygen carrying blood cells), a fact known as physiological polycythaemia of higher altitude and old regions. To produce more RBC's Haem moiety of haemoglobin (iron compound in Haemoglobin) body needs for more energy & Iron. This very simply explains the need to consume iron & energy rich foods during this period.

We may or may not take it but all this underscore that religion is nothing but a very scientific way of life and not rituals I’m sure that some of my thoughts will make you feel that our ancestors were genius indeed scientifically oriented and ritual perpetuators (as some of us are). They used scientific foods in their day-to-day life? They utilised their knowledge well. Unfortunately, over many centuries things become distorted and practiced as rituals and customs of particular religion and as humanity at large living in that particular or similar geographical location.

Its time we try to understand the scientific basis of every custom and ritual and help in taking the shroud of myths and religion specific biases away, to reveal an ideal way of life underlying it.

Happy Makar Sankranti – Lohri – Pongal – Bihu – Magh