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On Presence, Noticing and Pursuing Joy

“Its not repetition, its discipline!” – many say. For me, repetition beyond a certain point is the way to boredom. I like to do things, even if they are repetitive, with a sense of curiosity, exploration, understanding and joy. Because, after all, if doing something is not fun, either the pursuit is misdirected or it is done the wrong way.

A few months back, when I decided to get back on the health track, I knew that approaches I adopted  in the past may soon lead to the same result – that of giving it up. So, I decided to turn my quest for better health into something I can enjoy on a daily basis, something that enables me to take a deeper view into things around and within myself.

I track my activity through a health app on the mobile phone. Constantly flashing numbers on the screen while you work out can easily lead to anxiety and rob the joy of pursuit. So, I decided to overlook the measurements and intentionally focus on noticing things along the way. Chandigarh offers some really amazing places to work out – from the garden of roses to a huge park rightly named “leisure valley”. When I walk along the paved roads in these parks trying to increase my pace, I notice things in the spirit of exploration and experience. I notice how my heart races when I jog while the morning Sun tries to break through the haze. I notice the increasing chill in the air and the bees hovering on the flower buds. I notice grass blades that have grown taller since yesterday and the dog owners chatting in the park while the dogs playfully run around. I notice that man who so lovingly feeds the birds in that park every morning and that affectionate old lady who comes to drop her grandkid to the school bus. I click a few pictures of these seemingly routine but magnificent things that I notice and attach them to my activity log in the app. And then, it does not remain a “workout session” (passive pursuit) that feeds the physical body but an active exploration that feeds the mind and soul as well. It is an exploration of the inner world through presence in the outer world. It slows me down, makes me more aware about everything around me and enables gratitude. The other day, I just paused for a moment so that I don’t disturb a little squirrel feasting on a tiny flower bud on the track. It was such a refreshing sight!

Cycling has only multiplied my excitement to remain fit. I have fallen in love all over again with the whole idea of moving without any engines. It is such an organic way of commuting where you only move to the extent of your own effort. Isn’t that something so many of us easily forget when we get access to our first motorized vehicle? I am glad I found that joy again!

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Cycling is such a rejuvenating break from the boxed ways of commuting. It is a treat to watch long and empty stretches of canopied roads in the early morning, wave at the other cyclists, touch the leaves from leaning branches of roadside trees, feel the fresh morning air against my face, notice the elevation and slopes of the road which we hardly ever notice when driving a car and finally take a much-needed break at the lakeside watching silhouettes of rowing enthusiasts against the rising Sun from behind the mountains. This morning, while returning back, I stopped at huge roundabout which was beautifully decorated with rock monuments and finely manicured trees. I just spent a few minutes observing details of the roundabout and the purpose it serves – that of being an oasis in the middle of traffic mess. Did I waste those few minutes? Absolutely not!

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My friend Nicholas Bate says that we should focus on “quality of life” rather than “standard of living” and I consider myself incredibly fortunate to be living in Chandigarh – India’s first planned city that offers both in equal measures. But that is not really the point. The place or task does not really matter as much as your own attitude towards it. The simple act of being present, fully and completely, in the moment is an art that we desperately need to learn, especially in the anxious times we live in where increasing efficiency seems to be our only goal. In my experience, this applies to everything we do in life and at work.

What happens to the work out, you may think? Surprisingly, whenever I focus on exploration, experience and finding the joy through these activities, numbers invariably take care of themselves. Surpassing my previous bests is just like cherry on top of the cake. Joy is the cake!

I wish the app on my phone gave me badges of honor for contentment I derive from these pursuits, just as it does when I meet my defined goals for the activity. Wouldn’t that be incredible?

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