Steve Jobs on following the heart and the blossoming of intuition

Steve Jobs cross-legged with the first Macintosh, in 1984.

Steve Jobs cross-legged with the first Macintosh, in 1984.

Wisdom from Steve Jobs:

… When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

[From Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commencement Address]

But then how do we get in tune with the inner voice amidst all the noise? How does one develop the intuition?

Let’s hear from Steve Jobs himself…

If you just sit and observe, you will see how restless your mind is. If you try to calm it, it only makes it worse, but over time it does calm, and when it does, there’s room to hear more subtle things — that’s when your intuition starts to blossom and you start to see things more clearly and be in the present more. Your mind just slows down, and you see a tremendous expanse in the moment. You see so much more than you could see before. It’s a discipline; you have to practice it.

[From the biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson]

In fact, even before Apple happened, young Steve Jobs used to spend days in meditation retreats at the Tassajara Zen Center in California. It’s very clear that Jobs’ exploration of eastern spirituality during his younger days had a big influence in his life and work later on. His Zen meditation practices really poured into his work, his ability to focus on just what’s needed, his design sensibilities, passion for perfection and the way Apple has shaped up as a brand it has come to be. He found his Zen in Apple.

Today, February 24th, is Steve Jobs’ birthday.

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A Karma Yogi has one pointed mind (Bhagavad Gita 2.41)

Those who are resolute in this path (of Karma Yoga) have one pointed mind. Many-branched and endless are the thoughts of the irresolute.

Bhagavad Gita 2.41

You feed your energies to whatever you pay attention to. A karma yogi knows this and s/he does not dissipate his/her energies. A karma yogi takes up a worthy purpose, puts all his/her attention into the purpose and gets it done.

Even physical science has plenty of examples to illustrate the power of focus and attention. When a paper is exposed to sunlight, nothing happens. But when the sun’s rays are focused using a lens into a single point of the paper, so much energy goes into the point that it burns. A piece of iron as such is nothing. But when the polarity of particles in the iron piece is aligned, it becomes a magnet.

We know that the objects of pleasure and pain vary from person to person and time to time, ultimately pleasure and pain have no reality, these are just notions of mind created by habitual responses of the mind and associations. But when we pay too much attention to the thoughts that try to convince us that the pleasure and pain are real, the reality of pleasure and pain grows in our life. When pursuit of pleasure and denial of pain becomes the dominant reality of one’s life, it’s one miserable life. A karma yogi knows this and so is focused only on the purpose at hand, he/she is not infatuated by the notions of pleasure and pain.

Swami Vivekananda says,

Take up one idea. Make that one idea our life — think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body, be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success.

See also: Karma Yoga (Bhagavad Gita 2.39,40) and Pleasure and pain, heat and cold (Bhagavad Gita 2.14, 15)

Karma Yoga (Bhagavad Gita 2.39,40)

After impressing upon Arjuna about the wisdom concerning the Self-realization and the analytical study of the nature of the self, Sri Krishna now goes on to speak about the Yoga of unattached action (Karma Yoga).

So far, the wisdom of Self-realization has been declared to you. Now listen to the wisdom of Yoga, endowed with which, O Arjuna, you shall break through the bonds of Karma. (Bhagavad Gita 2.39)

We have seen so much about the unreality of pleasure and pain. Actions motivated by pleasure and pain only  lead us to bondage. Unattached action is the only way out of this bondage.

What is pleasure and what is pain?

Let us try to understand this more deeply. What is pleasure? What is pain? Why does the mind run after pleasure and run away from pain? What is unattached action? Let me try to explain as much as I have understood based on my limited experience and study. You don’t have to agree with this explanation, but try to understand, experiment and validate it for yourself. Feel free to disagree, add up, clarify.

Have you ever observed your mind and your thoughts when you are happy? Have you observed that when you are truly happy, the mind is undisturbed and peaceful, there are no thoughts, you are totally aware in the present moment?

And have you observed your mind when you are in pain? When you are in pain, the mind is disturbed and uncontrollable. It is very difficult to focus the mind when it is in pain, it is very difficult to be in the present moment.

So, happiness is when your mind is undisturbed and in a state of awareness in the present moment. Pain is distraction of the mind. When you are in pain, you step out of the present moment. Conversely, when you step out of the present moment, you experience pain.

But does the state of your mind and your ability to be aware in the present moment depend upon some external object you think to be pleasurable (or painful)? This belief that ‘pleasure comes from external object’ just a habitual response we have built up over time, right? It’s just a habitual response, just a conception of mind. It cannot be real because the notions of pleasure and pain vary from person to person, from time to time. When you realize that pleasure and pain are not real, they are just notions of the mind, you break away from your dependence on the external object in order to be happy, you get back to the wisdom that happiness is the true nature of your Self.

Craving is pain

Eckhart Tolle says, “Stress is caused by being ‘here’ but wanting to be ‘there.”’ When the mind is caught up in the ignorance that pleasure (and pain) depends on the object outside, it is ever distracted. An ignorant mind cannot stay in the present moment. It always craves after more pleasure, it always runs after something that it thinks will bring more pleasure. It is here, but wanting to be ‘there’. When there is craving, the mind has stepped out of the present moment and naturally it is painful. All you need to do to be happy again is to get back to your Self, accept the present as it is, get back to the undisturbed state of awareness and presence. But the ignorant mind erroneously thinks that the pain will go away only when the object of craving is attained.

Eventually, the object of craving comes into your life sooner or later. When this happens, you are momentarily happy because having got the object of pleasure, the craving stops, the disturbance of the mind is gone, the mind gets back to the present moment. But the mind is still ignorant and it still attaches pleasure with the object outside. So the happiness lasts only for a limited period of time. All things pass, this too shall pass. When the object of pleasure is gone, the mind due to its ignorance gets disturbed again, feels the pain again, and thinks the pain is because it has lost the object while the reality is that pain has come because the mind has stepped out of the present moment. The craving starts once again. The cycle of pleasure and pain continues.

Lost in the cycle of pleasure and pain and ignorance…

The mind is caught up in this cycle of pleasure and pain as long as there is ignorance of attaching pleasure with an external object. As the cycle repeats itself again and again, the ignorance gets strengthened, it becomes extremely difficult to get out of this vicious cycle. When we are caught up in it for too long, the ignorance permeates so deep, almost to the core of our being that it becomes an addiction, we are at the mercy of the object that we have attached pleasure with.

When we are caught up in this cycle of pleasure and pain and ignorance, all our actions are governed and dictated by the pleasure principle. We have lost control. Actually, what we have been talking so far is very simplistic, in reality it is much more complex. There are many many external objects we depend upon for our happiness in various degrees. So the mind is always distracted, it runs after one object and suddenly it runs after another. It is tossed up and down by hundreds and thousands of different motives. Very miserable state.

In order to get out of this misery, we simply need to shed the ignorance, we need to understand that pleasure does not come from the object outside, happiness is the true nature of the Self. But it’s not that easy for many of us. It’s easy for the mind to understand conceptually, but when the ignorance has penetrated much deeper into the layers of habits, emotions, beliefs, reality and even coded into the DNA of the physical body, it is very very difficult to root out the ignorance.

Karma Yoga, the yoga of unattached action

Fortunately for us, the Bhagavad Gita proposes a method that can help us break out of this bondage. It’s called Karma Yoga, the Yoga of unattached action. Counter attack… simply stated, you don’t allow your actions to be dictated by the pleasure principle. You just do what needs to be done for the good of the world irrespective of whether the action brings pain or pleasure. Pleasure should never be the motive of your work. The motive should always be do good for the world. You should never care about the rewards you may get, perform good actions just for the sake of doing it. Never let the conceptions of pleasure and pain control your actions. As you go on this way you get more and more control over your actions and your life, your mind becomes more and more focused, you become less and less controlled by the pleasure principle.

The task may seem enormous, but we just need to give it a start. Start small, just start helping people without any expectations. You don’t have to go too far, just start by unselfishly helping your friends and people in your family. Just do things that needs to be done and does good to the world, refuse to be controlled by pleasure, but always know that such unattached action will ultimately do good to you by helping you take complete control of your life. When you taste even a little bit of the superior pleasure of breaking away from ignorance and wrong beliefs, no getting back. The momentum builds up slowly and steadily. It’s the beginning of the end of your ignorance. Even a little bit of this Karma Yoga does not go waste. As Lord Krishna says,

In this, there is no loss of effort, nor is there production of contrary results. Even a little of this practice protects one from great fear. (2.40)

Okay, but does this mean we should not enjoy life, should we always remain stone faced? Not at all. Appreciate the beauty of life, smile, laugh, enjoy. Enjoy things as they come along, but gracefully let go when they go away. Accept the present moment for what it is. Enjoy life, but don’t lose yourself.  The trick is to be aware all the time and catch the mind when it’s about to fall into the trap of ignorance.

Work for work’s sake (Bhagavad Gita 2.38)

Having made pleasure and pain, gain and loss, victory and defeat the same, engage yourself in battle for the sake of battle; thus you shall not incur sin.

Bhagavad Gita 2.38

Pleasure and pain are not real. These are just notions of the mind. Without this realization the mind is always busy running after something that it thinks would be pleasurable or running away from things it finds painful. With the mind running here and there we won’t be able to perform any meaningful work. Besides, our understanding gets clouded, we lose our priorities and all immoral acts proceed from the ignorance of the fact that pleasure and pain exist only in the mind, not in the thing outside.

So when you rise above pleasure and pain, you won’t do anything inappropriate or sinful. There is no question of acting out of selfishness. No harming someone else just for the sake of gaining pleasure or losing pain because you know pleasure and pain don’t exist outside. When selfishness gets out of the way, all work you do would be for the greater good of the world. And the mind remains calm, there is no pleasure to run after, there is no pain to run away from, the mind is always focused on the work on hand. A calm and focused mind just does what needs to be done irrespective of chances of success or failure. Such a mind that works for work’s sake always turns out high quality work.

But can this level-headed-ness in success and failure be practical? Well, we should just try as much as we can, try for trial’s sake! If you want a practical example you should get to know MS Dhoni, who has this ‘ability to remain level-headed, at the height of success or depths of failure’. MSD is the current captain of the Indian cricket team and one of the most successful captains in Indian cricket.

Your primary responsibility is to take care of yourself

If you want to lead a peaceful life, here is the rule of thumb: Never care about things you can’t control, and take complete responsibility over things you can control.

Things you can’t control: the past, the unseen future, and the way others behave.

Things you can control: what you think, what you speak, what you do in the present moment.

In short, you only need to care about what you are, here and now.

Isn’t this self-centeredness? Of course, we are not preaching selfishness here. We don’t say that you should live only for yourself, or that you shouldn’t help others. Take care of how you help others, take full responsibility of your actions in the present and do your best to help others, but you don’t have the right to worry about the outcome or how the helped will respond to you.

Check out this video where Eckhart Tolle says, “Your primary responsibility is to take care of your state of consciousness which determines the kind of world you create.”

If you think about it, you’ll know that this is the only practical way of living. More than anything else, what you are in the present determines your future. When you take complete responsibility over what you are, what you think, speak and do, everything else takes care of itself.

Isn’t this what is meant in this shloka from the Bhagavad Gita?

You have the right to perform action, but not the fruits thereof at any time; let not the fruits of your actions be your motive, and let there not be attachment to inaction.

— Bhagavad Gita 2.47

Right here, right now

I have not been regular with my blogging. I have not posted even a single entry in the past 25 days.

Why?

I didn’t feel like posting.

Why?

Life has become so heavy and difficult. 😦

Why?

I have been taking life too seriously.

Why?

Well, I have become a little too rigid.

Why? What do you mean by that?

I just didn’t flow with life. I wanted certain things to happen certain way, and those certain things happened some other way. So, instead of accepting the reality and looking ahead, I kept worrying about how those certain things should have happened the way I wanted it to.

So, what is the solution?

Just flow with it… remember the good old formula — “Take full responsibility of things you are in control of, and surrender everything else to God.” Things I am not in control of — my own past and (unforeseeable) future, other people, beings, things and entities. In other words, I am not in control of anything and everything except what I am being and doing right here right now. RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW — this is the only thing that matters and the only reality, so take full responsibility over whatever you are being right here, right now. Surrender everything else to God (nothing else exists anyway 😉 ).

You have the right to perform action, but not the fruits thereof at any time; let not the fruits of your actions be your motive, and let there not be attachment to inaction.

— Bhagavad Gita 2.47