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Wednesday, 24 August 2016

The ‘monk’ who preaches mindfulness on a Harley Davidson

Answering a question on what constitutes meditation, a wise monk once said it is all about shutting the chattering monkey that your mind is and putting it to work to follow your breath. Just be aware of your breathing. Breathe in, breathe out.

Gopi Krishnaswamy on his Harley Davidson
And though mindfulness is often bundled together with meditation to mean one and the same thing, they are actually two sides of a coin. To understand mindfulness, you’d do well to ride a motorbike.

That’s what Gopi Krishnaswamy, life coach and mindfulness guide, recommends.

On the highway of life, you do not know what lurks around the corner, so you ride on with nothing more than a little prayer and a lot of faith, while at the same time taking in all the beauty around you.

“You have to learn to relax and be alert at the same time,” says Gopi, a passionate Harley Davidson rider. Elaborating on the motorbike metaphor and how it can help us understand mindfulness, Gopi says,

“In motorbiking, you need to have an empty cup. When your cup is full, you become cocky. You probably do something that is wrong. Similarly, in life, when your mind is full, you are not mindful.”

Mindfulness then is the awareness of the present moment. It’s like when you are driving, then just drive. “But the mind has become so dysfunctional that when you are driving, you are making an office presentation in your head, when you are cooking at home, you are having a meeting with your boss over the phone, when you are eating you are on Facebook or watching TV,” explains Gopi, adding, “We have become such multitasking monsters that people think this is the way to be without realising that this is a disease.”
Pay attention without the tension

Former MD at IDEO, an iconic international design company, Gopi is setting up a mindfulness retreat, Dhyaana, near Bengaluru, to coach business leaders and others on the practice of mindfulness in their daily life. He was earlier running his own agency, Insights, to understand shopping behaviour in India.

Business leaders and even startup founders are stressed about the bottomline and do not find the time or the inclination to practice techniques like mindfulness. But, as Gopi says, mindfulness may just help them put those millions in the bank.

Gopi with his mindfulness teacher.
“Creative solutions do not come under stress, they show up only when you are relaxed,” he says. Historically, the most famous creative solutions or ‘aha’ moments have come out of such a relaxed state. “Whether it was Archimedes, Newton, Einstein, Mozart, or Salvador Dali all of them came up with creative solutions only when in a relaxed state,” he says.

These are intense but not tense moments when you are able to pay attention without the tension, and when you are able to focus.

Look at the new-age tech companies like Google and Facebook today, mindfulness is integrated into their culture. “There is a huge element of play and relaxation in the way their work spaces are designed,” adds Gopi. It is not that they do not have deadlines or intense work hours, but the fact that they have relaxation corners and space for reflection proves that it must be effective or why else would they have them at all?

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 80 percent of the world population suffers from stress, and 90 percent of all ailments are the result of stress, whether it is diabetes, cholesterol or high BP. Gopi says,“In the name of efficiency, we buy stress.”

Gym of the future

Today, mindfulness is being used in drug rehabilitation, in the Army, the British Parliament teaches it to its MPs, and many more places. “Mindfulness is the next generation of exercise. It is the gym of the future,” predicts Gopi.

Gopi, who graduated from Central University of Pondicherry, has an interesting personal story. He joined the formal education system much later in life when he was all of 13 years old. The lack of formal education early in his life, perhaps, wired him differently. Gopi explains, “In school, when a teacher asks students to concentrate, she expects them to look at their books and not out of the window. If you are found doing that you get a whack on your head. The foundation of how we think is laid there. For me, the best results come when I am totally at rest, and I have picked up professions around that.”

Here’s an interesting analogy to help you think faster, better, and in a mindful way. Gopi says, “Thinking is like a torch light we are given. We keep it on during the day when we don’t need it. If you learn when to switch it on and off, it can be extremely powerful.”

A big fan of Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach, Gopi has a tattoo of a seagull on his hand to remind him that there’s more to life than “fighting for fish heads.” But if it’s fish heads that one wants, then it will serve one well when done with mindfulness. As they say, keep calm and twist the throttle.

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