Monthly Archives: September 2013

Practicing in unfavourable circumstances

For those of us who have given the practice of meditation a high priority in our lives, there are a number of situations that can disrupt the rhythms that we have established. If we have a regular job, the mornings and evenings are usually the best times we have available for meditation. Seemingly simple activities like picking somebody up from the airport, having visitors over, attending a party, waiting for a morning delivery, etc. can then be experienced as a great burden because they come in the way of our practice. Our untrained mind, which has the habit of being scattered, can use these situations as a motivation to ‘slack’.

I recently had my in-laws from Taiwan over for a week or two. I quickly started noticing how I started finding reasons for me to reduce my practices: ‘I should spend more time with my in-laws’, ‘there’s much more stuff in the room at the moment and I don’t feel comfortable to practice meditation in such a room’, ‘I don’t want to practice hatha yoga in a busy environment’, etc.

In an earlier article I have mentioned that I lost touch with myself when I allowed myself to slack. This earlier experience was very helpful to me, because I remembered it and naturally did not want to repeat it. I became more aware of the fact that if meditation is really something I want to deepen in my life, then these situations don’t have the power to prevent me from doing that.

I still did try to analyse why I was thinking these thoughts. I found that the one reason is that due to the change of circumstances my mind had become slightly agitated. The agitated mind simply does not want to practice meditation and is also not prepared for it1. In fact, the agitated mind will only create more agitation, unless we choose to do something else with our minds. This is why it’s a common experience to us all that sometimes we don’t want to do something (going to the gym after work for example), but when we are actually doing it we enjoy it and don’t really understand why we were resisting it. We should therefore not blindly trust the suggestions of the mind when it’s in an unpleasant state, because it has the tendency then to lead us to more unpleasantness.

Another reason is that I sometimes tend to be so perfectionistic about my practices that it actually works against my practice. I then get into this type of thinking: ‘If it can’t do it as well as I want to, why do it at all?’ This is actually a sign of making myself dependent on the circumstances, which is the exact opposite of what the spiritual process is about. The reality is that we can only do things as well as the situation allows us to, and there is nothing stopping us from doing that.

It was not my intention to offer any solutions in this article, but I do hope that you can relate to the experience that I’m describing and use it to your benefit.

1: This is also why a peaceful and joyful state of mind is the starting point of meditation, rather than the goal.


A cause of guilt

I have been in the situation where somebody is experiencing guilt twice in the past week. I noticed in both situations, the guilt was caused by self-judgemental thinking. Because it wasn’t me who was experiencing guilt in the first situation, I will only write about the second situation in this article.

I have recently joined Kiva, a non-profit organisation with the aim of alleviating poverty via microfinancing. What it boils down to is that Kiva makes it possible for us to lend money to those in need1,2.

When you want to make a lend money via Kiva, you can browse through a list of people who want to borrow money. When I was browsing through this list a few days ago, I became aware of the fact that I can only support a handful of people without creating an unstable financial situation for myself; the consequence of this is that that I have to choose somebody from the list of borrowers to lend money to. Then I became very aware of the fact that if I choose to give money to one person, I am also choosing not to give it to any of the other people. I suddenly found myself with an enormous feeling of discomfort.

Because I was not being very aware, my thinking took over and I started to subtly condemn myself. I started thinking that I’m a bad person for choosing which person is more deserving to borrow my money and that I’m not wealthy enough to support everyone. Guilt started piling up in me and, luckily, that’s when I became aware of the absurdity of my thinking. I had become judgemental about myself.

I backtracked to my feeling of discomfort and I asked myself what unmet need of mine is at the root of it. The answer was that I simply want to live in a world where people aren’t in (absolutely unnecessary) poverty. Realising that my feeling of discomfort was an expression of care for others made it go away.

I was not satisfied with the discomfort going away. I needed to know why I went on a guilt trip. I came to the conclusion that I became judgemental of myself because I became very focused on what I was not able to do, and forgot all about (1) what I was able to do and (2) that there is no reason to have regrets when I have done what I can. This was actually the exact same type of thinking that I made somebody else aware of a day earlier!

We want to help others because it is our nature to do so. We feel wonderful when we are able to help others. At the same time it’s also our inherent in us that we are limited in what we can do at any given moment. This should not stop us from doing what we can up to our limits. It my experience that we will feel content when we have done what we can.

1: I want to give one reason why I feel comfortable with lending money to those in need, instead of donating it. When I say that I want to help somebody, my intention is to help that person to become independent. When somebody borrows money, he does so with the intention repaying his loan. In order to do that, the borrower needs a sustainable way of earning money; this is one aspect of being independent. I’m not concerned about being paid back.
2: Incidentally, consider using my Kiva invite page if you are interested in joining Kiva. By using this invitiation link, we will both have the opportunity to lend an additional $25, provided by a sponsor of Kiva, to any borrower of our choosing.


The yoga psychology of the Twitter follower count

I read an article a few weeks ago with statistics on fake Twitter followers of Dutch politicians. It was a reminder to me that having followers on social media is generally considered to be an important thing, and served as an extra trigger for me to try and understand the psychology of having Twitter followers a little bit better.

The method that I use to understand such subjects is self-study1 through contemplation. In this case this started for me by observing my reactions to gaining and losing followers on Twitter. I found that whenever I gained a follower I had a sense of happiness, and whenever I lost one I felt a bit sad or annoyed. I also started noticing that thoughts of my Twitter follower were popping up in my mind more regularly during the day. I took this as an indication that underneath this ‘follower count’ there is something that is important to me.

I asked myself why I am having these feelings; more specifically, I asked myself what needs of mine are being fulfilled by gaining followers. The answer that my mind gave me was loud and clear: “Attention, recognition and approval.” This means that I was unconsciously seeking the attention, recognition and approval of others, and that I was interpreting being followed as being given attention to, being recognised and being approved.

I consider spirituality to be the process of making my happiness independent of other people or things outside of me. This is what I consider to be the practice of non-attachment2. I therefore always remind myself of the following: whatever I seek outside of me is something that I am not finding or giving to myself, and that will eventually lead me to misery.

I have noticed that only the realisation that I am seeking something outside of myself is not enough: as long as I have the perception that I am indeed finding what I seek, I am not able to change the behaviour of seeking that something outside of myself. I have already described one method of breaking this habit on this blog, which boils down to coming to the understanding that if somebody likes or dislikes someone/something, it has (almost) everything to do with that person and (almost) nothing with that someone/something. This understanding paves the way to self-fulfilling our needs.

In this specific case of Twitter followers however, it doesn’t even go to ‘liking’ or ‘disliking’. I have observed that quite a large number of people don’t follow others out of interest, but merely as a strategy to be followed back!

This whole idea of having Twitter followers has become almost entirely meaningless to me after this examination. It has left me with amazement at how our mind leads us to nonsensical behaviours when we seek to fulfill ourselves through external means.

1: ‘svadhyaya’ in the Yoga Sutras
2: ‘practice’ and ‘non-attachment’ lead to Self-realisation according to Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras


A practical lesson in the garden

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3 – This article

After having passed my test, Wolfgang invited me to stay at his place in Germany for the weekend so that he could begin sharing his experiences with me. I was very excited, and this excitement was perhaps boosted by the fact that I had just obtained my master’s degree and was completely free from responsibilities and duties: free to fully focus on my personal development.

The weekend itself was wonderful and I have a number of great memories of it. There is one situation in particular that I want to share in this article. My understanding of spirituality had been, unbeknown to me, completely theoretical before this transpired, and the situation kick-started my movement towards becoming very practical about spirituality.

Wolfgang’s house has a relatively spacious garden surrounding it. He has built many nice things in that garden, such as a small bathhouse and a meditation place built around a fire pit where a handful of people can sit together (in fact, I was initiated by him at that meditation place in that weekend!).

One of the activities that Wolfgang did with me was gardening. He was giving me instructions to observe and feel which parts of the plants and trees were suffering or dying and to prune those parts. He also gave me some instructions to collect all dead plants and branches on different stacks, and to throw these stacks away later.

While I was doing my work, he had gone back inside the house to spend some time with his wife. After about an hour or two he said from inside the house: “Ilyaz, dinner is ready!” I happily went inside to have the meal. After we had eaten, I made myself comfortable, retreated to my room and did some resting and reading.

The next morning, when I came down, Wolfgang said with a semi-stern voice: “Come stand next to me at the window and see the mess you’ve created.” I was not quite sure what he was talking about, but when I reached there he showed me that there were a number of stacks with dead plants and flowers that I had forgotten to throw away! They were still lying there in his garden! There was no anger in him, but it was clear to me that he wanted me to know that there was something quite significant to learn from this.

Then he said: “The mess in the garden is a reflection of the mess in your mind. Be practical.”

This is how I learned my first lesson about the relationship between our mind (internal states) and our surroundings (external reality). The lesson itself was so practical that I simply cannot forget it. It has been a great help to me, and I have been turning increasingly practical ever since.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3 – 本文