Life is short

It is said we have four seasons to live — spring, summer, fall, and winter. But three seasons may already be over. Time, as we know it in this world, is very short, like the blinking of the eye. We have a responsibility to live wisely and effectively.

The most important thing we have in our lives is our breath. If we breathe in and we don’t breathe out, we are dead. It is as simple as that. Our breath is our life. Every breath is precious and important. What are we doing to advance toward our destiny as we take each breath?

We postpone living, as if life goes on forever. We postpone spirituality, thinking we can handle it in our old age when we think we will have more time. But what is old age? Who can assure us of this old age? We can plan for 50 years, but we do not know what will happen in the next second. We need to integrate our spiritual identity with everything we do in the physical world. The way we walk, talk, eat, sleep, conduct our business, and interact with our family and friends can all be integrated with our spirituality.

This approach of living 24 hours a day with a spiritual grounding takes the sting out of death, as we are at every moment ready for the day when the body parts with the soul. “Die before you die” is a Sufi phrase used to describe a symbolic death that happens while we are still alive, meaning that we are ready and prepared if death knocks at our door.

The epitaph of Jalaludin Rumi states, “When we are dead, seek not our tomb in the earth, but find it in the hearts of men.”

Once you are in your tomb you cannot be seen or do anything. It is when you are alive that you are able to make a contribution. Life is short — you have four seasons to live, but three may already be gone. Wake up!

(Excerpt from the book, The One Minute Sufi by Azim Jamal)

The gap between the thoughts

Meditation means sitting quietly, doing nothing, and being empty of all thoughts. It is a vehicle that allows us to connect with our spiritual core. Meditation relaxes and stills the mind of its endless chatter and clutter. Meditation can be practiced in many different ways, but the purpose remains the same — attaining spiritual enlightenment.

How do we prepare for meditation? We need to prepare both body and mind. The preparation for the body is easier than the preparation for the mind. We can prepare our body by not abusing it through harmful habits such as taking drugs, smoking, and drinking alcohol. Regular exercise and healthy food also help to get the body ready for meditation. Sufis say that deep breathing helps us relax and thus helps the practice of meditation. The relaxed body improves concentration.

Preparing the mind for meditation is more complicated than preparing the body. Some psychologists say that an average human being thinks as many as 60,000 thoughts per day. Of these, approximately 50,000 thoughts are of the past and 10,000 thoughts are of the future. We are either thinking of the past or of the future, making concentration in meditation difficult.

To be able to concentrate well we need to be in the present moment. If we meditate at a busy time of the day,  our thoughts are at a peak and it is difficult to concentrate. If we meditate at a time when we are relaxed, we have a better chance of progress.

To meditate, we must be comfortable with silence. For many of us, though, silence can be an uncomfortable experience. Why is silence important? If we want to connect with the Divine Light that permeates the universe, then we need to tune into it. This can only happen through silence. Spending time with nature as often as possible relaxes us and puts us in the mood for silence and meditation.

Another way to facilitate meditation is to look at our paradigms — the way we see the world. If we see the world as mean and rude, it will interfere with our concentration.

Changing how we see the world can help improve our concentration. Our negative thinking, which stems from our worldview, is similar to carrying 20 bags of luggage on a trip. This baggage will make our trip miserable, and progress will be slow.

Despite all these different strategies for preparing for meditation, it is normal to have our thoughts come and go while meditating. The key is not to fight the thoughts, but to embrace them. Think of a feather in a river. What does the feather do? It floats without fighting the river.

If we do the same, we will find that our thoughts will not interrupt our meditation. If we fight the thoughts, they will keep coming back. The real power of concentration lies in the gap between the thoughts. Thoughts come and go. The longer the gap between each thought, the better the concentration.

Like anything else, if we continue to practice, the art of our meditation will improve. Regular practice of meditation is one of the best ways to cultivate spiritual enlightenment.

(Excerpt from the book, The One Minute Sufi by Azim Jamal)

The Zing back!

Our work is an integral part of who we are, and if we are not able to feel joyous when we are at work we are probably falling short of living our true potential. Not only is joy our very state of being, it is also a touchstone of all that is going well in our lives. So let’s explore some methods that can help put the zing back into work.

➢ Define your mission –  The articulation of who we are, what we want in life, and how we want to lead our lives can spell the difference between dragging yourself to work every day and choosing a workplace that helps you crystalize your vision.

➢ Widen your circle – We spend 70% of our waking time at our workplace, so it’s only natural that we want to spend it with people we enjoy being with. However, you also need to create meaningful relationships. The more you connect in life, the more you find opportunities to experience it and celebrate it.

➢ Treat every problem as an opportunity – Alexander Fleming, the bacteriologist, noticed that a contaminated Petri dish he had discarded contained a mold that was destroying the bacteria around it. He realized that it contained a powerful antibiotic; penicillin. That antibiotic today is credited for saving millions of lives. Every challenge or problem carries within itself the opportunity for growth. What is needed is an open mind and self-awareness. Once you decide to view every challenge as an opportunity, life begins to unfold in amazing ways.

➢ Help someone – The fastest way to get out of misery is to help someone. To start with, it immediately diverts attention from your own misery. Second, it enriches you by adding value to your life. Third, the other’s relief and happiness is infectious. So the next time you feel gloomy, go ahead and brighten somebody else’s day and watch your own joy grow in the process.

➢ Create your own special ‘Joy Ritual’ – Whether it’s having that peppermint tea at four in the afternoon, or going out for a long walk, create your own special moments to savor.

➢ First things first – Before you go to sleep at night, write down three priorities you would like to accomplish the next day. If you complete these three priorities the next day you will feel terrific. So try your best to do them as early as possible. Completing them will rev up your spirits for the rest of the day.

➢ Be in the moment – The past is no more, and the future is not yet here so make sure you live this moment with a deep awareness and joy.

Our work is an integral part of our life. Joy at work results in joy with life.

Do What You Love

Finding your life’s purpose will be one of the most important decisions you make. Once you have found your sweet spot, your holy grail, the next step is to build your life around it.

Knowing your purpose and living your purpose is not the same.

What we do to bridge this gap ultimately decides the quality of our reality.

Here are a few tips to make the journey easier:

➢ Articulate your life’s purpose in detail

– We can create all that we can conceive. Writing down your dream helps to crystallize your goals and concentrate your attention.

➢ Inculcate self-discipline –

There will be times when the road ahead will seem impossible and you will be plagued by self-doubt. In times like these, it is easy to give up on your dream. Disciplining yourself to keep up a daily schedule and consistently following through on all activities will help you remain on track.

➢ Don’t expect immediate results –

The starting phase requires your undivided attention. This is the time when you get to work at your craft and hone it to precision. Learn to treat every challenge as a learning opportunity.

➢ Work hard

– The axiom ‘Do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life does not mean that you will not have to work hard. It means that work might not seem like work at all, since you would be enjoying what you do.

➢ Break it down

– At times the scale of our dream might seem daunting. Often in the beginning you might not know how to start. The way forward here is to break up every big plan into a smaller task.

The clarity of purpose and having the tenacity, discipline, and focus to go the distance will optimize your chances of success.

Information to Wisdom!

We have access to almost unlimited information. However, there is still a dearth of wisdom.

The progression from raw data to wisdom (raw data > information > knowledge > understanding > insight > wisdom) can be a long climb.

One of the biggest challenges you will face on your journey to wisdom is the battle to overcome the focus on self. Being selfless leads to wisdom. But, some will argue that most success comes from a self-drive, so how is it that we are knocking the self. However, too much focus on self leads to selfishness and narrow-mindedness.

Here are several ways to overcome this potential problem:

1. Avoid feeling deprived –

Your selfishness will be saying something like, ”I should be getting more recognition”. When, objectively, you are being treated appropriately. Realize that this is happening, catch yourself, and refocus on the task at hand.

2. Refrain from judgment and relinquish control –

Remember you can only control yourself – give up controlling other people, circumstances, etc. The more in control of other people you think you are, the less in control you actually are!

3. Practice self-awareness –

As you become more aware of your thoughts you’ll be surprised how many are too focused on you. Keep a journal to develop self-awareness.

4. Focus on the big picture –

Be driven by the importance of outcomes rather than the importance of self.

5. Start listening –

Go beyond their words to grasp others’ feelings. Ask people who are close to you what they think about your behavior and actions. And be objective about what they and others think about your behavior and how it affects them.

6. Celebrate diversity –

Value the differences in others and see their strengths. Celebrate the success of others as if it were your own.

7. Participate in life –

Absorb knowledge from every encounter; every experience; every person; every defeat; every setback, and every opportunity.

8. Treat work like meditation –
Work so deeply that the division between the doer and the doing disappears and work becomes sacred.

9. Embrace humility –

Humility is born when you realize that you are simply the medium for the universal abundance to flow through.

10. Practice gratitude –

Consistently ask yourself, ‘what five things can I be grateful for today?

Going from raw data to wisdom can be a long climb unless you opt for the shortcut through meditation!

Forgiving Self!

If you hold a grudge when you are hurt by others, you will lose your energy and peace of mind.

Instead, if you forgive them wholeheartedly, you let go of your hurt. Ironically, when you are able to forgive others for their shortcomings, you are also able to forgive yourself for yours.

Forgiving others thus leads to forgiving self!

Spontaneity!

Spontaneity means acting naturally and effortlessly. Spontaneous energy is rooted in your very center of being.

For example, your four-year-old playfully splashes water on you and is looking forward to your response with an air of innocent amusement. One option is to reprimand and lecture him on good behavior and then get back to cleaning up the mess. The other option sees the bigger picture, i.e., look beyond his act to understand his desire to engage with you. When a spontaneous person responds to the moment, he or she is accepting complete responsibility for that moment and is open to the interesting possibilities of life. Spontaneous action generally leaves you feeling joyful, liberated, and full of gratitude for life.

But when our behavior does not arise from within us or is superficial, it becomes a reaction rather than a response.

For example, during a fight, you get caught up in the heat of the moment and say many things, which you regret later. Driving rashly, speaking rudely, or indulging in repetitive mindless tasks are examples of impulsive behaviors.

Impulsiveness is rooted in the ego (the false outer image of the self), driven by our baser instincts, and accompanied by guilt, regrets, or misery. 

When you are in the now, your memories don’t pull you back, and your future expectations no longer confine you to a limited set of possibilities.