“We train ourselves all through our life to waste energy following our inner narratives. We are often unconsciously driven by our fears, worries, and fantasies. Enter the space of awareness of the present moment with no emotional filters, no regrets nor hopes, no daydreaming and no nightmares” – Natasa Pantovic
Growing up in Mumbai, I thought life worked like this:
- Listen to your parents and get good grades (excel academically) in school
- Once you have finished school, get into a good college (university)
- Once you have finished college, do your MBA
- Get a good job and climb the corporate ladder, anything less than becoming a CEO is an abject failure
- Accumulate as much wealth as quickly as possible so that you can be happy and have a great life
So, I set myself on the path to achieve all the above things. I got good grades in school, went to one of the best colleges in Mumbai, moved to Melbourne and completed by MBA and CPA. Along the way I got married, started a family, and bought a house. My career started progressing and life got busier. I was working 65-70-hour weeks and all our free time was dedicated to driving the kids from one activity to another. Every now and then I would stop and say to myself, “How good is this, life is amazing!” Being busy and doing more and more things became a badge of honour. Little did I know that my life was about to turn in an unplanned direction.
Nine years ago, I got my first senior role reporting to a Managing Director. Working with my new boss was an amazing experience and he taught me many things that I continue to apply today in my life. However, 10 months into that role, I experienced my first doubt towards my ambition to become a CEO. I started questioning whether I really had the desire or mental fortitude to lead a company. But I pushed these thoughts aside and continued to live my apparently successful busy life.
Two years hence we met our financial planner to plan our retirement and align our superannuation and insurance. He asked me what my goals in life were. When I told him about my plan to become a CEO he said, “Ryan, that is an excellent career goal but I need to understand what your main goals in life are as a couple so that we can plan for your future financial security”. We came home that night and over the next few days put our life goals on paper. After looking at the goals written down on paper, I experienced my second doubt towards my grand career plan. My main thought was I do not need to be a CEO or accumulate extreme wealth to achieve these goals.
Fast forward two years later. 3rd July 2015, I switched on my radio in the morning to commence my commute and tuned into SEN (radio station) to listen to the latest footy updates. The breaking news that morning was about the death of Phil Walsh, who was the coach of the Adelaide Football Club. He was stabbed in his own home. For reasons I cannot explain, the fragility of life really hit me that day. I could not concentrate on my work that day and have never hugged my family as hard as I did when I got home that night.
The following 18 months or so were spent in extreme mental anguish trying to understand the meaning of life and decipher my purpose. I started questioning whether this is the path I really want to pursue and what I genuinely cared about in life. I was unhappy and derived zero satisfaction from my seemingly successful corporate roles. Furthermore, I was in this place mentally where I did not know what to do with my life and what my next step should be. That is when I started practicing yoga regularly. My body started feeling good as I improved my strength and flexibility. By focussing on my breath whilst transitioning from pose to pose I realised the beauty of the present moment. That is when I started my own mindfulness practice and decided to become a yoga teacher. It is during my yoga teacher training that I learnt more about the benefits and science behind mindfulness.
In the beginning, I started small, practicing 2 minutes at a time on a regular basis. I did all the research and understood that all that I had to do was observe my breath. Easy right? Sitting down with my thoughts was not easy as I had been conditioned to be goal-oriented, work extremely hard and define success and meaning in materialistic terms. Slowing down was difficult. That is when I sought a teacher who could teach me fundamentals, answer my questions and above all keep me accountable.
After years of practice, things have really clicked with my mindfulness practice over the last 10 months (more on that in another blog). I have learned to be more tolerant and less judgemental. I have come to realise that my inner dialogue for years was overly critical, never feeling “good enough, smart enough or nice enough”. It usually takes me a long time to forgive myself for my mistakes as I continue ruminating over the past. Therefore, the area where I have had to do the most work is to learn to be kinder to myself and inculcate ongoing self-compassion. However, I will be honest, quietening the monkey mind is not that easy. I still get distracted by many thoughts, but I have become better at observing my emotions without getting involved and turning my focus back to the breath.
These days when I finish my mindfulness practice, I feel more aware of my surroundings, more at peace and less anxious. I am more aware of being present, or bringing myself to the present, instead of ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. My mind is calmer.
My mindfulness journey thus far has been amazing and full of growth and stepping out of my comfort zone. My experience with mindfulness has created a philosophical shift in the way I look at my world, leading me to see glimpses of the bigger picture around me with humility and compassion for myself and others. My motivation to become a mindfulness and yoga facilitator comes from the benefits I have experienced and the realisations I have achieved which I wish to share with the world.