Photograph by Edz Norton on Unsplash
Often our minds swing in between two extremes of actions — complete acquiescence or complete disconsolation wherever you find yourself. Changing jobs, places, partners, friends, don't help. As if the mind's vacillations between the past and the future weren't enough to the already outstanding restlessness and anxiety making up the background of our time. The roots of those 'action' extremes are desires, aimed to achieve comfort through convenience and avoiding struggle of any kind.
So when we struggle, our mind conjures up desires which when fulfilled should end the struggle. But do they?
At my first job, I had a desktop. Most of the others in the team had a mac book pro. I wanted it. I had a college laptop at home whose screen had gone rogue and green. One evening, tired of using the laptop on an external glaring TV screen, I gave in. I bought a late 2015, 13 inches, 8GB RAM mac book pro. After the purchase, not able to survive the guilt of my first expensive shopaholic purchase, I called my father. He asked me to consider it as a gift and sent me half the money. 6 years later, when that laptop has died, I wish to have the best mac there is, which costs the annual salary of my first job. But my senses haven't taken the better of me, and the laptop only sits in the cart for the right time.
I can't begin to tell how many times the thought of leaving a job has come to mind. Some of those times I acted out on them, leaving three jobs, without a prior plan or any job offer.
Even now that I'm earning better than before and have no major complaints about salary, this thought is omnipresent — for different justifications, the mind provides as reasons. It's stubborn on days, and just floating around on the periphery on the others.
When a thought is so persistent and recurring it's easy to be remiss and give it false meaning, attaching it to a convenient purpose of 'what you're supposed to do' or passion or calling or just generally dissociating yourself to whatever it is that triggered a revolutionary-escapist instinct in you – a job, a relationship, a situation, a person, a thing… One would think that if a thought so throbbing, incessant, is extant, it might be sort of a calling, or a warning, an omen, or an intuition.
It is in moments like these that we wish we were a child or a teen again. These thoughts lay the foundation of cravings and aversions that our mind trains upon, event by event, person by person, job by job, situation by situation. Once you've attributed what you think is the cause of struggle as such, these two spirals' fire is fueled.
Desires when not observed, and waited for patiently arrest our senses, our mind becomes outbound and it becomes difficult to realise that all desires lead to the same place…the beginning.
The famous and cliché running joke:
- They said to study for 10th grade exams and life will be set
- Then they said to get good marks in 12th grade and life will be set
- Then they said to get good marks and placement in college then life will be set
- Then they said to get a better salary, a better job, then life will be set
- Then they said to get married and life will be set
- Then they said to have children and life will be set.
does in fact projects what actually happens. It's a never-ending cycle, isn't it? I wanted a 13 inches mac book pro 6 years ago. Today I want the best one. The thought to leave the job, take the risk and do something that I'd enjoy is repetitive, and honestly enervating, if sometimes empowering.
Once there's this awakening, a recognition – and meditation helps become mindful about this like no other action can, again and again – a middle path opens.
A path where there's gratitude despite the stress, contentment despite ambition, patience despite struggle and endless work.
These seemingly opposite terms of living become complementary, aiding and sometimes mutually exclusive from each other.
This path opens up ways where you'd see yourself in the light you might not have seen yourself in before. Self-introspection happens frequently, more importantly, you feel the need to do it.
Complaints, doubts and grudges seem like a waste of time.
Action roots in planning, habits and the hum of this present moment, which provides you with a weapon to handle the mind, of it's okay, never mind, so what, let's keep going, let's move on…
It is then that desires often very frequently turn out to be intuitions. We've all had those magical moments where trying hard to remember something, but not being able to, letting go suddenly brings it all back. It's the same faculty that pops out intuitive thoughts.
In 2018, I attended a meditation retreat that emptied my mind. I'd been having a tough time – unemployed, unclear, unmotivated for over a year and a half. And suddenly after the retreat, I felt like going to Mumbai, where my aunt lived. After 15 days of meeting people from the poetry, music and art circles, people I'd only experienced the art of through Instagram, I felt like going to Bangalore without any plan. 5 months in and I got myself a job again and life started moving again.
This is not to say that intuition always demands spontaneous actions. That particular time demanded galvanizing. I've had intuitions where that voice or feeling told me not to do something for a very long time; I didn't.
On this middle path, between two intuitions, there's a desire to be helpful and work hard. Discipline no longer demands effort after a while, it becomes second nature. I'm a long way to experience that, but I'm on my way. You realise that consistency is the advocate of all that you do. Ambitions, people, circumstances don't define your happiness and neither do they make you want to make any fewer efforts. This path becomes the path of a yogi, a peaceful warrior, of moderation, calculated risks, smart tradeoffs and cutthroat priorities.
The trick is believing you already have what you want, surrendering that desire and then working for it.
An excerpt from a story about Buddha in a commentary on Kathopanishad by Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:
The thrill of working like this is unmatched. It's the reason I've been able to write for over a month daily, consistently despite the fear of missing out, self-doubts and uncertainty.
If I'm walking in public I can't dance let alone sing even if I'm feeling like it. But my steps imbibe dance when I walk with my headphones on, not caring about the eyes around. I forget I'm outside. I visit my inside so to speak where inhibitions shed. The mind needs tools like these to trick itself into relaxation, because by nature the mind is chaotic even if everything is right. The surprising secret to tricking the mind into relaxed awareness and helping it practice it, just like we were wooed by TV or gimmicks played by our parents to make us eat food, is our breath. Modulating it a certain way helps seep into a meditative state of the mind seamlessly. And through that void, the void of the experience of I'm nothing or I am arise intuition and resilience to walk the middle path.
May the middle path be with you.