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Before yesterdayPerpetual Change

The Tyranny of Pacman

5 March 2018 at 10:36

It wasn’t until I took my AP Art History exam in my junior year of high school that a thought occurred to me about a game that I’ve taken for granted for so long: Pacman.

It’s a fairly simple game: a yellow man eats white dots and cherries while being chased around by ghosts. And then there’s a twist – if he eats a special dot, he can eat the ghosts.

There’s no backstory, no context, just some fun sounds in the beginning and then you’re ready to munch! As with most video games, it’s easy to assume that you’re the hero in the story and the ghosts (who are trying to eat you) are clearly the villains.

But wait. Why do we assume Pacman is the hero?

If you do a double take, you realize that there’s nothing really heroic about Pacman at all. In fact, he’s a guy who’s encroaching on the ghosts’ lands and eating all their crops. If I were the ghosts, I’d also be chasing after the guy who’s on my land, eating all my cherries!

Back when I first realized this in high school, I was adamant that this was some form of capitalist propaganda, instilling the ideals of imperialism and “take, take, take” culture into our youth. I felt angered by these subtle signs in our games, feeling like they play a huge role in influencing the American psyche and defining our future.

However, now, over four years later, I’d like to think I’ve matured a bit. When I look back at this thought I had about Pacman, I’m less angered and more amused at the little things we take for granted without even realizing. It always helps to shake things up and check our assumptions.

If anything, it reminds me that as much as we love being the hero, we may not be saving the day in every game that we play.


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Pacman

surajsehgal

Awaiting Miracles

26 February 2018 at 12:10

I was driving to the New Jersey Princeton Junction station in an Uber when the driver struck up a conversation about spirituality.

I remember a distinct moment when he began to rave about The Autobiography of a Yogi, insisting that anyone who reads the book will experience miracles. He starts recounting how when he started to read the book a few years ago, he was just a few chapters into it when his nephew was accepted into dental school.

Skeptical but interested to hear more, I ask, if that’s what happened when you started the book, what happened when you finished it?

To which he responds, Oh, I haven’t actually finished reading it.


When I look back on this story, I’m simultaneously amused and bewildered. Not only did my driver have the conviction that reading a book would provide miracles, but he also managed to NOT FINISH THE BOOK!

This is the epitome of human hypocrisy, the daily struggle so many of us face. We know sleep is great for us, we know physical exercise and mental breaks are like miracles … and yet we still manage to skimp on all these activities.

There have been many times that I have felt caught up in the drudgery. So often, it’s like I’m moping around, waiting for some miracle to happen in order for my life to instantly change. However, the conversation with the Uber driver made think:

We always feel like we are the ones waiting for the miracles, but what if the miracles are just waiting for us?

What if that book is waiting to be read and to provide inspiration at the moment you need it most?

What if that diary is waiting to be written in to help you reflect and reveal an inner truth?

What if that yoga mat is waiting for you to develop that inner and outer flexibility which you will appreciate as you start growing older?

We are surrounded by miracles. So I guess the real question is, will you stick with it? Are you ready to complete your book of miracles?


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surajsehgal

Screw Happiness

30 January 2018 at 10:25

This past November, I was given the opportunity to speak at the TEDxGeorgiaTech Student Speaker Salon!

If you’d rather read than watch, the text of the speech can be found below.


Performance of “Posters” Spoken Word Poem

I am tired of posters.

Everywhere I go. Every doctor’s office, professor’s desk, waiting room, classroom, bedroom, everyplace that I go; they follow me.

“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”

“Don’t be afraid to be different

“Do what makes you happy

They don’t tell you if you miss the moon, you’ll die with seconds in the vacuum of space,

If everyone just focused on being different, then we’d all be hipsters

And do what makes you happy

Look, these phrases are simple and catchy

And yet, repeated endlessly until I can no longer quite remember what they once meant.

I am sick of these posters.

Shoved down our throats at every occasion – every convocation and celebration – a culmination of an entire generation’s worth of brainwashing.

These grains of truth turned into meaningless adages, hiding behind framed stock images.

Is this what I’ve come to?

I’ve spent so much of my life trying to be happy,

told to “do what I love” and to “love every moment”

And yet I’m on a treadmill of goals and wishes, that just goes on and on and on,

wondering why I’m not able to reach that one trophy I so desperately crave.

Not realizing that it’s literally two steps in front of me, in front of this machine that I can’t seem to turn off.

We are taught that happiness comes from ‘defining who you are,’ from ‘following your passions,’

as if happiness is just some hedonistic reward for being unique and different.

Almost entirely neglecting the meaning, the purpose, the importance

that comes from suffering, from pain, from giving.

For it’s only when we’ve finally lost ourselves that we stand to gain everything.

We’ve become so obsessed with passion, that we’ve forgotten about compassion,

so self-centered that we’ve lost our ability to center our Selves.

I’m done with these posters.

I’m over being told to keep running.

I am ready to turn off my treadmill.

I am here. 


Hello everyone, my name is Suraj. I’m a writer, a student here at Georgia Tech and perhaps most meaningful to me, an instructor for a form of meditation called heartfulness.

What you just heard was a spoken word poem I wrote, called “Posters.”

For as long as I can remember, I’ve felt immersed in a culture that is obsessed with happiness. As a campus and a generation, we are constantly told to do what makes us happy, to follow our passions. And yet, despite these slogans for an era that is arguably more connected, more comfortable and more affluent than ever before in our history, so many of us feel empty and unfulfilled. We have more than 300 million people around the world who are affected by depression, which is the leading cause of disability worldwide.

Why is that? For so many years, the question I began to ask myself was, why, despite the constant narrative to be happy, am I not? What haven’t I figured out?

First – I had replaced happiness with pleasure.

If I look back at all the moments in my life that I remember as being “happy” – they fall into two categories.

There are some that were exhilarating – getting the PlayStation 2, spending a full day at a music festival with my friends, winning my first high school debate competition – and yet they almost always were extreme highs that were inevitably followed by equally extreme lows.

There are other moments that were more subtle – the first time I picked up my cousin and held him in my arms, the smile given everyday by the person at the front desk at my internship – and these moments were ones where I felt a sense of joy that seemed to last so much longer.

Neurologically speaking – these exhilarating moments include the release of dopamine – a “pleasure” hormone which gets triggered anytime we achieve a goal or talk about our accomplishments. It gives us this amazing high but then immediately comes down, like a sugar rush.

In comparison, the more subtle moments are explained by serotonin or oxytocin which are released from more unselfish behaviors (ie. charity) or through acts of trust and bonding. The difference is that the effects tend to be longer lasting.

For so long, when I thought about happiness, I had almost wholly replaced it for these exhilarating moments. In my first year of college, I remember dreading having to come back to my room, because I spent the whole day interacting with friends, exploring events on campus, but knew that the inevitable crash was awaiting me.

Second – I had made happiness about myself.

When I was small and would have nightmares or growing pains, I still remember how my mom would hear me crying in the middle of the night and rush over to make sure everything was okay. Those moments at 2am were definitely not happy. I’m sure no parent enjoys being sleep deprived because their child is waking up every few hours. But in that moment, no matter how cranky or unhappy my mom felt, she came out of love.

Over the past few years, I’ve spent many days having existential crises thinking about myself and whether I’m really happy, often sinking into a deeper and deeper hole of self-doubt. When I found myself in this position last year, one of the most unexpected things that helped me was starting a garden in my balcony.

For the first time, rather than waking up and thinking about myself and how I wish I could sleep more or how I’m dreading the day, etc. – I found that my focus was shifted to taking care of the plants outside. The simple act of watering was pulling me out of self-obsession and helping to connect me to a world beyond myself, providing a perspective on my own struggles. Happiness was no longer just about me.

This shift from ourselves to others is further confirmed through a study conducted at Harvard by Dr. Michael Norton. When two groups were taken – one told to spend $20 on themselves and another to spend the same money but for other people – the group that spent it on others reported consistently higher levels of happiness. Even beyond feelings of connection to others, studies have found that such prosocial spending can have longer lasting, positive effects on our stress and physical health.

Then why do so many of us spend most of our resources on ourselves and not others?

Finally – I was caught on this treadmill.

As someone who has meditated for the last 4 years and taught meditation for the past 2 years, I have often been asked the question and even asked the question to myself “If I feel content, how will I accomplish anything? What will happen to my ambitions?” as if there was no way for me to be fulfilled and still aspire to improve.

As a result, I found myself constantly falling into the trap of “If only I …”

“If only my friend would just apologize. If only my parents would let me go to this party. If only I get into this college, get the right internship, the right job, the right location …” Before you know it, you get lost in this cycle – and implicit in the statement is “If only I do X … then I’ll be happy, then I’ll be okay.”

In the words of the “Happiest Man in the World,” a 71 year-old Buddhist Monk named Matthieu Ricard, “Happiness is not the pursuit of an endless succession of experiences. That’s a recipe for exhaustion more than happiness. Happiness is a way of being. …”

For me, this is the role of meditation.

I have spent most of my life being conditioned by external factors telling me the best way of “finally being happy” is something that is outside of you that you just have to keep working for.

Without realizing that pausing, taking a step back, and looking within

can help unravel and expand my understanding beyond the chaos of the moment.

When we want to get to know someone really well and the conversation is getting good, we put away our distractions, give them our full attention and just keenly listen to what they have to say.

Meditation gives me the opportunity to do the same with myself. When I meditate, I put away my distractions, take that moment to pause, relax and finally just listen to what my heart has to say.

The more that I’ve done this, the more that I find myself letting that state of calm, of balance become my natural way of being.

This isn’t just my experience. In studies from Yale, Johns Hopkins and universities around the world, researchers are finding how a daily meditation practice is able to physically change our brains, reducing our stress, increasing our cognitive capability and so much more.

The most important part to recognize is that it’s something that is accessible to everyone. You don’t need to free up space on the weekend to go to the mountains. You can do it before a test, in a conference room, anytime, anywhere.

Going back to the question I asked myself: why, despite the constant narrative to be happy, am I not?

I realized it was because I had replaced happiness with pleasure. I had made happiness about myself. I was caught on the treadmill.

For me, I’ve found that getting off the treadmill means,

moving away from seeing happiness as pleasure,

shifting the focus away from me to include others,

and it’s about moving to a place where happiness becomes way of being,

using meditation as a tool for achieving that state of perfect balance.

Ultimately, my hope is that all of us can screw being told to find happiness, to pursue that endless succession of experiences. That we can each say that we’re done running on our treadmills, and to just be here.


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surajsehgal

I’m Trying

10 December 2017 at 22:18

There was a time I could neither read nor write.

This idea to me is incredible. As I’m typing out these words, able to convey complex ideas using words, sentences, paragraphs, I am bewildered by the fact that there was a time that I couldn’t read and I couldn’t write.

I’m a little saddened that I can’t quite remember how I got from there to where I am today. Perhaps it’s for the better that I can’t remember…

After all, who wants to relive the constant repetition of phonics, word games, and writing exercises? Having to sound out words again and again, making the same mistakes in pronunciation? The frustration and mental torture of being unable to communicate as easily through writing as I could with speaking?

I’m sure there was once a time I looked at one of the large books in our library, turned through the pages and thought, “these symbols look crazy. who could ever understand this?

Fast-forward to the present and I’m amazed at how I’m suddenly in this reality in which reading and understanding what I’m reading are now much more natural processes to me than they once were.

It seems like both a blessing and a curse of the mind that the memories of learning, frustration, and constant repetition have somehow disappeared, remaining as mere footnotes to my childhood.


For the past few months, in every aspect of my life, I feel a growing sense of inadequacy. The more that I learn and grow (whether in academics, professional skills, or character building), the more aware I become of just how vast the field is and as a result, how much room for improvement I have.

It is a skill in itself to be able to develop an intuition for what “ideal” means in any given field. As I get better at giving presentations and speaking, I develop a better intuition for what it means to give a good, engaging presentation. As I go deeper into my meditation practice, I develop a sense of what it means to live my entire life in a manner that is more connected and meditative. As I learn how to cook, I develop a better sense for what makes dishes good and just how vast the definition of “ideal” is depending on who is eating and what cuisine is being made.

This intuition is something that is constantly evolving; as you grow in any skill, you begin to better understand the nuances of what it means to excel in that field. However, I feel like a painter with a vision for a beautiful painting who stops after every stroke, analyzing how every error will act as an obstacle to the overall painting I’m aiming to create.

It is driving me crazy because I can’t seem to engage in any activity without noticing how I can improve and immediately feeling discouraged that I haven’t learned “enough.” It’s like a child who’s learning how to walk and immediately starts crying after every fall, refusing to get up and start walking again. Or like a person trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle and keeps feeling sad about the fact that all the pieces haven’t come together yet.

I have to keep reminding myself that mistakes are unavoidable. If I’m the captain of a ship and someone informs me that I’m headed in the entirely wrong direction – I have to take that mistake seriously. I have to learn from what went wrong and change course accordingly. But I also have to move on; it doesn’t help to keep remembering all the days that I lost because of that mistake, to just stop the ship entirely and continue questioning whether I’m fit to be a captain anymore.

I’m here. I’m driving the ship. I have to keep going.


In the Gita, a dialogue that takes place between Lord Krishna and his friend Arjuna in the middle of a battlefield, Krishna shares the concept of Karma Yoga and the idea of learning to do your work without becoming attached to the result.

This is a concept that always made sense to me at an intellectual level but one I struggle with implementing day-to-day. Of course, a doctor who focuses more on the surgery rather than the money is likely to perform the operation well. Likewise, whenever I’m not focused on the reward of good grades, I tend to learn better and perform my school work in a much more relaxed way.

However, this sense of deep discouragement I feel anytime I engage in a task, a presentation, or even writing isn’t necessarily because I’m worried about the grade or money I’m going to get at the end. With my eyes on the horizon of possibilities, I know deep down that I am capable of becoming really good at an activity or a skill – but this becomes a constant reminder that I’m not there yet.

What’s the difference between me engaging in activities now and when I was a kid? Was I always this terrified of starting the race because I knew how long it’ll take to get to the finish line? The answer seems to lie in the attitude.

Somehow my intuition and my understanding of what I’m capable of has turned into a constant self-imposed expectation that I have to achieve. Even when I know that learning takes time, that skill development is a continuous process, I become like a tadpole who is upset that it hasn’t become a frog yet (It’ll happen. Just chill. Please.).

When I was younger, I was a lot worse at most things than I am today… and yet I still managed to not get so discouraged. How did I have fun reading books even when I couldn’t understand half the words? How did I manage to know that there was so much more out there to learn and improve and yet still continue with the constant mistakes and repetitive nature of practicing? Instead of expectation, I was filled with hope. I could aspire to improve and not feel discouraged at every mistake because there was a deep wisdom that accepted the mistakes I made and understood that as long as I keep trying and adjusting, results are inevitable (though maybe not in the way I might envision it).

 


So where does that leave me?

This is a phase, perhaps a mindset, that I’m ready to outgrow. I’ll probably look back in a month and feel like I’ve completely conquered these feelings only to realize a year from now that they’ve found some other way into my life. Alas, life is repetition.

For now, it looks like I’ll continue devising ways of tricking myself into working out or practicing for things without thinking too much about where it will lead me or how terrible I’m at it. Maybe it’s just a matter of reminding myself that I can read now.

Afterall, if I managed to figure out how to read and write, imagine what else is possible!

Small

surajsehgal

Beyond Rationality

22 July 2017 at 01:40

We often idolize rationality as the solution to all of the world’s problems. Awareness. Education. These are always touted as the foundations of success for any plan that hopes to create real change.

Especially in our current era of Enlightenment, we have come to view rationality as our savior. We believe that if the whole world was more knowledgeable and followed logic, peace would be inevitable. In that sense, rationality is our guiding principle of how we view the world, and something that we have come to view as the cornerstone and necessity of any theory or practice.

To me, and to many of us, it just makes sense. The more we know, the more logical we are, the less likely we are to commit illogical crimes of passion or make emotionally-driven mistakes.

And yet I still remember visiting Auschwitz, Nazi Germany’s largest concentration and extermination camp.

The more I learn about the Nazis, the more I realize how systematic, methodical, and scientific they were in their mass killings – creating new breakthroughs in oven technology and weapons to become more and more efficient in the ways that they tortured those they considered to be subpar human beings.

It horrifies me to think of them in this way, but in many ways, the Nazis epitomized rationality and capitalism. They were ruthless, efficient, highly methodical killers, running their entire operations like machines. Camps would immediately remove those who were not deemed useful or capable of working, and those who could work were utilized like robots until they were almost dead, at which point they would be forced even to dig their own graves. They utilized every part of the victim, taking not just people’s clothes and belongings, but everything down to their hair and teeth. It was no crime of passion, it was methodological, thoroughly planned, intentional murder.

And it wasn’t some sort of lack of education, like someone just hadn’t told young German kids that killing is bad and they shouldn’t discriminate against others. There were entire societies of doctors, engineers, and well-educated professionals that not only allowed for this to happen, they wholeheartedly planned and plotted these mass murders.

As philosophers at that time felt, this exposed a horrifying reality of the pitfalls of rationality. Here were the ideas of the enlightenment being used as a mask to justify our own aggressive tendencies. In the Dialectic of Enlightenment (pg. 23; read pg. 139 for more on Anti-Semitism), Horkheimer and Adorno write how “reason itself has become merely an aid to the all-encompassing economic apparatus.” They witnessed rational means used excessively to pursue irrational ends, to essentially achieve our own inner desires for greed and power.

This experience occurred almost two years ago, when I went to Europe for the first time, but I still recall it often because I see this obsession with rationality embedded in the way that many of us see the world today. I fear that the more and more we swear by it, the more we allow ourselves to be swayed by well-constructed arguments that could be truly inhumane or lack virtue. I fear that at some point, if we take it too far, we too will simply reach a point where we are using rationality as a mask for our own aggression, fears, and desires.

At the end of the day, rationality is a strategy of argument, a tool for thought, that is not “right” in itself. It is an instrument to execute a goal effectively, not a goal in itself. The goal, the aim that it helps execute, is defined by the values that underpin it – it must rely on a value system.

For the Nazis, it was the set of values that involved taking out those who they saw as inadequate and allowing “the most fit” to survive. There was no consideration for the old or the experienced; the only people who mattered were those who could work and produce. What strikes me is that there was no heart.

At the end of the day, rationality is bound by the values and insecurities of the one who uses it. Rationality is only as good as the person who wields it. If what lies underneath a person is excessive ego, pride, greed, desire, and anger, then rationality will simply become a sleek way of justifying heinous crimes. On the other hand, if it is a tool used by someone who is seeking to live with value, to connect within and live heartfully, just imagine what it could do.


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surajsehgal

Meditate for: Pockets of Peace (Why Meditate? Series)

15 July 2017 at 11:44

We all want peace.

When people explain why they are interested in meditation, inner peace is one of the most common reasons that they share. Whether it is the day after the election, a stressful exam week, or just a chaotic time in our lives, we often come to learn meditation expecting it to be an immediate dose of peace.

I was the same way.

My parents have been meditation instructors all my life. When I was small, I would watch people from different backgrounds and walks of life come to our house to learn how to meditate. In addition to individual sessions, there would be weekly group meditations at our home and even group meditations before our holiday parties. As a kid, I would be mesmerized as I watched these adults close their eyes and sit in silence. I would daydream about what it must feel like to meditate, imagining that they were all experiencing this amazing state of bliss.

I didn’t start meditating until I was 17-years-old, but I remember very idealistically envisioning how it was going to solve every problem that I had. I thought that once I learned how to meditate, I could close my eyes and immediately enter into the “Zen Zone” where all my problems would go away. The Zen Zone was going to be this surreal space in which I would barely think, I would get all the answers I need, and above all, I would immediately feel 100% calm.

The reality? It was anything but.

My first meditation lasted about fifty minutes and from the moment I closed my eyes, I was flooded with thoughts and worries. My mind began to wander: I started creating a to-do list of tasks I needed to complete, I developed a sudden craving for chocolate, and I became acutely aware of this mental radio of catchy songs that was playing in the background (unable to figure out how to turn it off).

It was definitely not what I expected.

As I opened my eyes, I was thoroughly disappointed by the lack of Zen I had felt during the meditation.

There was no Zen Zone. There was no instant calm.

However, when I observed carefully right after, there was something else that I was feeling, a subtle sense that something had shifted within me. Some people describe it as lightness or clarity; others say it feels like your mind is a messy file cabinet that finally got organized.

It was that brief taste of relief and relaxation that prompted me to keep going. In spite of not feeling successful right off the bat, I stuck with it for some time, understanding that though it was not what I had initially expected, there was still something meaningful I could gain and learn through the process of meditation.

Within the first few months of meditating, I was disillusioned by the daydream of the instant Zen Zone that I was expecting to find. However, I began to discover something better instead.

When I would sit to meditate, I began to feel brief moments of peace. At first, it was only a few seconds out of a thirty-minute meditation. But as time went on and my interest deepened, this pocket of peace naturally began to expand to become longer and more intense.

Through consistent practice and small internal changes, I began to uncover these pockets of peace that came despite the millions of thoughts I had floating around. Meditating became less about achieving thoughtlessness and more about falling into that pocket, that brief feeling of contentment, even when surrounded by my thoughts.

In many ways, it became an exercise in overcoming what I thought meditation was supposed to give me and instead allowing myself to receive whatever it was actually giving me. It was only when I stepped back, began to relax, and stopped trying so hard to reach the Zen Zone that I could finally slip into a pocket of peace and feel it expand.

And in this process alone, you become better equipped to finding and connecting to that peace from within, no matter what the circumstance. After all, if I can learn how to experience even a brief moment of peace amongst the chaos of my own mind, how can the chaos of the world outside disturb me?

When we think of meditation, many of us have images of complete silence, of these beautiful panoramic, Instagram-worthy views of the ocean, the mountains, or the forest, and being surrounded by a completely calm environment.

But meditation is not about finding peace when it’s easy, it’s about preparing us to find peace even when it’s hard.

It is able to prepare you for that moment when you miss your flight in a foreign country and have to sleep in the airport at 2am; when you’ve just been told bad news and are crying in the back of your car; when you’re surrounded by a tornado of bizarre circumstances, thoughts and feelings, and feel like there’s nothing you can do. That’s when meditation is there for you. That is when the weeks of meditating, of trying to expand those few seconds of peace each time, matter. It is in these times that we begin to realize how valuable that pocket really is and to explore the extent to which they can go.

Looking back, in many ways I first came into meditation expecting to dive into some sort of Zen Zone, thinking it would be exactly what I had always wanted. However, it was only after I lost these preconceived notions that I was able to receive and perceive a peace that I never even knew I desperately needed.


About the Why Meditate? Series

I began to meditate over three years ago in June of 2013 and have been teaching heartfulness meditation ever since July of 2015. For over three years, I’ve had people ask me about how I meditate, why I meditate, and above all, how meditation has helped me. So I am starting the Why Meditate? Series, a series of blogs hoping to give an introspective and versatile taste of the many answers to that very question.

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surajsehgal

The Four Elements of a Balanced Life

6 July 2017 at 04:35

As a kid, I used to love watching Avatar the Last Airbender, a cartoon series about a young avatar who had to restore balance in the world. Although it was just a TV show, one of the lessons it taught me is how there is something we can learn from each of the four basic elements found in Nature: Earth, Fire, Water, and Air.

Earth – Be Grounded. Remember your roots.

As an element, Earth is literally “down to Earth.” It reminds us to stay grounded and humble. By understanding and appreciating the roots beneath the ground, it calls for us to be grateful for those who might be “below” us.

Most importantly, it teaches us how expansion needs to happen both inwards and outwards; in order for a plant to grow above the soil, it needs to continue to branch out its roots beneath the soil.

Fire – Be Dynamic. Accept change and transition.

Fire is a reminder of the constant changing we experience in life. In a moment, a single flame can blaze down entire forests and towns; it is a force of destruction, useful for when weeds need to be removed, and also an opportunity for renewal, for life to start afresh from the fertile ashes.

The element is a reminder for us to develop our “fire within.” After all, no matter how much wealth we may amass, it takes but a flame for it to burn away and disappear. Our character, our ideas, and our relationships – these are the intangible and “unburnable” things which bring value to our lives.

Water – Be Still. Remain calm and clear.

Like a deep and clear pond, we must learn how to be honest and transparent. An unpolluted pond is transparent within and at the same time able to show the reflection of those looking in, without much distortion.

The pond is open and clear enough for you to see through the water, and yet deep enough that any rock thrown at the water simply sinks below without causing too much disturbance; though there may be ripples on the surface, the pond is able to absorb the rock into itself.

Air – Be Flexible. Adjust and move on.

Air is a flexible element, one that flows over obstacles and adjusts itself automatically. It demonstrates how to adapt when circumstances change and how to remain nimble.

In addition, air is so vital to our lives and at the same time seemingly invisible. It teaches us to serve with humility, to give life to others but without expectation of acknowledgment and recognition.

Balance

Ultimately, by looking with a keen eye at the basic elements of nature around us, there is much we can learn about how we can mold our lives. Each of these elements has both its positives and negatives; any one element followed in its extreme would be detrimental to our wellbeing. A balanced life, however, takes use of these four elements, with attention given to its proper usage and moderation.


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Balanced Rocks

surajsehgal

Meditate For: Feeling Whole (Why Meditate? Series)

20 June 2017 at 10:40

How many of us crave for something more?

As I grow older, I am increasingly confronted with an underlying feeling of emptiness within myself.

It’s often in the stillness of the night under the shadow of darkness, in the moments before going to sleep, that we become most aware of this deep emptiness. We are confronted with this feeling that there is something we are missing, a craving for something beyond our mundane lives.

In today’s society, we try to fill this inner emptiness through external means. We are enamored with narratives of friends, fortune, and fame. As a result, we structure our lives to make the most money, to have the best body, to get the most attention. We even post our successes on social media in hopes of receiving external validation for that which is internally unfulfilling.

This starts when we are young. As toddlers, whenever we are cranky, fussy or sad, we are almost immediately shown TV screens and iPads, reinforcing a mentality of seeking external stimulation whenever we feel the slightest internal discomfort. Again, as we enter into adulthood, we emulate similar behaviors – seeking newer jobs, cars, relationships whenever we encounter that internal dismay.

Hence, despite being in an era of all the newest advances in technologies and being part of the “most connected” generation, we have more than 300 million people around the world who are affected by depression. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, it is the leading cause of disability worldwide. Today we have access to all kinds of knowledge, entertainment, and external stimulation that people in the past could have only dreamed of, and yet still we remain empty and unfulfilled.

So what is it that we are missing?

Looking inwards.

Engaging purely externally, we have forgotten about the world that is within ourselves, we have forgotten the home that is within our hearts. When I first started meditating, that is the one truth that I began to realize. The emptiness that I was feeling was a craving to feel whole again, a craving to find a home within.

We may spend our entire lives trying to fulfill that craving externally, but it is one that can only be fulfilled by what we already have within ourselves.

To me, in its very essence, that is what yoga is about. In Sanskrit, the word yoga translates to “union.”

Union with what? With that which is within.

While so much of our lives have become externally focused, yoga is a practice and a philosophy to bring us inwards, to reunite with the original source of fulfillment within ourselves.

So, take a step with me, and take this Yoga Day as an opportunity to re-connect with yourself. Take that craving for something more and use yoga and meditation as an opportunity to step back, close your eyes, and feel whole once more.


About the Why Meditate? Series

I began to meditate over three years ago in June of 2013 and have been teaching heartfulness meditation ever since July of 2015. For over three years, I’ve had people ask me about how I meditate, why I meditate, and above all, how meditation has helped me. So I am starting the Why Meditate? Series, a series of blogs hoping to give an introspective and versatile taste of the many answers to that very question.

To follow this series and to get future posts directly in your inbox, subscribe now!

This post was originally published on the Heartfulness Blog.

Flower with Dew

surajsehgal

Empathy and Community Service

9 June 2017 at 23:10

It was the first time in my life that I had found myself on crutches. My left ankle had been sprained but with a lot of airline assistance and hopping from wheelchair to wheelchair, I had managed to travel from the United States to India.

There was a lot that I learned while I was on crutches. But some lessons stand out more to me than others.

The most frightening moment for me was when, after two days of being at a meditation conference in India, boldly crutching from tent to tent in the scorching heat on uneven terrain, my other (healthy) foot began to feel sore and stopped holding my weight. Suddenly, the one thing I was leaning on for support – my right foot – was beginning to crumble and I didn’t know what to do.

For the first time since I was in diapers, I found myself in situations in which I physically could not do basic tasks without someone’s assistance. People would need to bring me food from the cafeteria, come every few hours to drive me to the nearest bathroom, bring me to my gate in the airport on a wheelchair, and help me with such absurdly simple things that I was able to do so independently just a month before.

With every such situation that I was in, I found myself witnessing service in an entirely new light. While many of us engage in community service, few tend to understand the perspective of those we are (supposedly) serving.

At the end of the day, I was not able to walk for more than a few feet, so I was grateful to have anyone at all who was willing to help bring me around. However, it immediately put me in an uncomfortable position in which the person who was helping me had so much power over me and I was constantly influenced by it. If the person had to go the bathroom, if they were being slightly careless, or if they stopped to run an errand along the way – I was directly impacted by every action that they took and every detail that they noticed or missed.

What’s worse is that because of the power differential, I felt like I could no longer criticize the person in any way; even if they insisted on feedback, it personally felt extremely trivial to try to nitpick over tiny details that seemed to be overshadowed by the fact that I should simply be grateful to have someone helping me at all.

It was in such situations that I realized that when trying to help any community or person, the people we are attempting to serve may be too grateful for any help to be able to admit that what you’re doing or the way you’re doing it isn’t any good. As someone who has taken several classes and read literature on issues of privilege and power in community service, it was still incredibly humbling to get just a brief glimpse into what it might feel like to be “on the other side” of service.

Ultimately, these issues can only be overcome by empathy. Whether through actually experiencing the person’s circumstance yourself or through taking the time to understand what they’re going through, putting yourself in their shoes is the only way to overcome the power differential which often arises when engaging in service.

Throughout the time when I was on crutches, I would almost inevitably encounter two or three friends, acquaintances, or even strangers who would ask “Can I help?”. While their sympathy was well-intentioned, this question would sometimes frustrate me. Once, in a moment of exasperation, I responded by pleading, “Yes. I really want you to help me. I need your help. But I have no idea what I can ask you to do.”

During these moments, I came to appreciate the people who would not wait to ask “can I help?” but would instead say “Can I carry your backpack? I’ve been on crutches before and I know how much it can slow you down” or the friend who would see me coming to class and set up my chair, carefully placing a seat in front of me so that I could elevate my ankle.

I came to realize that the only way to truly serve another is to be able to empathize, to lose yourself and in the process, discover the needs of the one you’re hoping to serve.

There’s more to come! Follow the rest of my journey by subscribing: get new posts directly in your inbox.

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surajsehgal

The Why Meditate? Series: An Introduction

30 May 2017 at 14:07

I began to meditate over three years ago in June of 2013 and have been teaching heartfulness meditation ever since July of 2015. For over three years, I’ve had people ask me about how I meditate, why I meditate, and above all, how meditation has helped me. So I am starting the Why Meditate? Series, a series of blogs hoping to give an introspective and versatile taste of the many answers to that very question.

Below is a brief preview of the different ways I’ve benefitted from meditation:

Reacting to situations

On a reactive level, meditation has helped me moment-to-moment as an emergency response for whenever I find myself in an unpleasant or stressful situation. For example, my senior year of high school, anytime I would get too frustrated during the college application process, I would use meditation as a quick way of taking a mental break. Even today, I will meditate 15 minutes before a test or interview to calm my nerves, focus on being connected to the situation and just clear away some of the stress.

Proactively preparing myself for life

On a responsive level, I see meditation as a proactive way of preparing myself for anything that life might throw my way. When I started meditating more regularly, I noticed that I was able to stay more level-headed in situations that would have otherwise caused me to feel extremely stressed (like missing my flight in another country). In general, I also began to feel less anxious or jealous about situations and people, and I started to become more aware of how music, food, emotions, and other things were affecting me.

Feeling better overall

Looking at longer trends, week-to-week and month-to-month, I’ve noticed that meditating has been able to give me a qualitative benefit; in a way that is often hard to describe, meditation just helps me feel better about myself and about life. Similar to days where you get the right amount of sleep and the world just seems happier and brighter and you feel more in control, I’ve felt something similar with weeks that I meditate more versus weeks where I meditate less or not at all. Over time I have noticed that when I’m meditating more I’m able to feel better about the world, I feel more awake, more aware, and able to remember things for longer periods of time.

Purpose and inner change

At the most nuanced level, meditation has helped me find purpose. At the end of the day, you are the only person who has been with yourself all the way up until now and you are the only person who will be there until you die. For me, I see meditation on the heart as a way for me to connect with who I am at the very core. When I first began meditating, I felt bombarded by lots of thoughts and it was hard to “get the hang of it,” but it was still a way for me to make time for myself to just sit and see what was inside. After a few months, I began to feel like there was something I could connect with while meditating that was beyond my thoughts. Three years later, meditation has become an anchor, something I know I can do every day (even for five minutes) that will be a conscious investment in my own well-being and in getting to know myself better.

We always say we want to become better people. And while we can focus on eliminating unwanted behaviors or emulating “good behaviors” externally, I’ve found that true change comes from a shift in ourselves internally. I can act on the outside like I’m a compassionate person or an empathetic person, but it isn’t until I’ve developed that change from within that I truly begin to exhibit those qualities and become that type of person. That inner change is what I feel meditation has begun in me and has the potential to bring about in others.

Conclusion

These reasons are just the tip of the iceberg! I hope they help to illuminate some of the benefits I have received through meditation and I hope to be able to use this series to expand and explore this topic further.


To follow this series and to get future posts directly in your inbox, subscribe now!

Please comment below with your own experience and thoughts – I’d love to hear from you.

Meditating

surajsehgal

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