Create the habit of meditation
CHIRAG KULKARNI, Co-Founder and CMO of Medly Pharmacies in the USA, speaks with RISHIKA SHARMA about creating a regular meditation practice, so as to make it a habit. He also shares how meditation has benefited both his personal and professional life.
Q: Hi Chirag. How did you get into meditation?
CK: My parents have been practicing meditation since before I was born. I saw a lot of the values first-hand. Growing up, we used to go to the meditation center on Sundays; a lot of my life revolved around the Heartfulness practice, so when I had the opportunity to start meditation for myself, I thought it was well worth it and gave it a shot.
Q: We often try things because people we look up to, like family members and friends, are doing it. You were basically surrounded by people who practiced meditation. What made you stick with meditation for yourself?
CK: I spent a good while in India, and learned from one of the Heartfulness teachers, Chariji. Learning from him first-hand was a good introduction, but I think what made me stick to it was slowly seeing some of the benefits that meditation offered.
Like with anything, when you start something, what keeps you going are the small wins that you see on a daily basis. In the beginning, it was probably the ability to sit for a few more minutes, from five minutes to ten minutes to twenty minutes, and more. I really started seeing the benefits of meditation after three to four months of practicing consistently. Small changes, like focus. I would get frustrated very quickly, and that started to improve. I noticed my patience starting to increase.
In the grand scheme of things, what really helped me was writing a diary, because I was able to look back and analyze what my thoughts were when I started meditation, what I was feeling when I was meditating, and compare them with what I was feeling three months, seven months, and ten months later. I saw slight improvements even in the way I was behaving.
Q: Did those small wins help cement meditation as a tool that you would utilize?
CK: Yes. Those small victories led to larger improvements over a period of time.
Q: What is it about the Heartfulness practice that makes it so unique? Why would you recommend it to young adults?
CK: Self-care for some people might be baking, taking Sunday off and reading a book. Self-care might be doing face masks with your friends, or listening to music. There are so many examples of self-care, and the whole purpose of self-care is that you’re caring for yourself. With meditation, your focus is not only on caring for the mind and body, and all of the related aspects that fit into who you are as a human being, but also the element of the spiritual quotient that people really tend to ignore on a daily basis.
Heartfulness is a spiritual practice. Initially, I was less interested in the spiritual aspects, and more interested in the material benefits, like deeper sleep, more focus, getting less angry, getting less agitated, getting less irritated.
Q: It’s almost like meditation is a full cleanse.
CK: I think meditation attacks a situation at the root cause. It’s like getting rid of weeds in your garden: one way is to cut the weed, but the most effective way is to take them out by the roots, so that they don’t grow back. It’s similar with meditation. You’re trying to fix what is happening at the depth of yourself.
An open mind is important.
The moment you set expectations
around what meditation should be,
you limit what it can be.
Openness and a growth mindset
are two related things that are necessary.
Q: Incorporating any new habit is a challenge. How did you learn to make meditation a priority in your life?
CK: With anything in life, you have to start by figuring out what the benefit is. Once you figure that out, then you can figure out what priority it has in your life. In the beginning, meditation might not be a priority, but for me it was an important thing to stick to for a variety of reasons: First, there were people around me who were interested in it, and second, I knew the benefits, both from people who were practicing and from what I was seeing.
The question of creating a habit first comes down to having interest. Then, once you have interest, it’s important to talk to people who have made the habit a part of their daily life, and figure out how they did that. From there, it comes down to a willingness to do it. If you prioritize it, you’re going to figure out a way to make it regular. Then it becomes a habit. It becomes second nature, just like brushing your teeth.
The thing about habits is that you don’t consciously think about them. For me, meditation became habitual in nature when I really saw the benefits, which was probably in month four or five. Being in an ashram helps you cultivate that regularity that you need to create habits. From there, coming back home was the real test of how to make it a part of my day-to-day life.
Q: What were the roadblocks to meditation becoming habitual?
CK: One roadblock is the habit of doing something else instead of meditating first thing in the morning. The second is just natural hindrances that come in the way and prevent you from meditating on a morning-by-morning basis, like getting up ten minutes before your first meeting and not having enough time to get ready. It’s an element of time management, prioritization.
Q: How did you overcome those roadblocks?
CK: When I talked to people who had made meditation a part of their daily routine, one piece of advice they gave me was to give at least three hours in the morning to focus on yourself, to do things that promote self-care. That’s how I help myself calibrate and decide the time I need to get up to meditate. That develops a level of regularity, like waking up at the same time every day.
Q: You must have had interest, as well. What was it about meditation that was so compelling that you had to wake up in the morning to do it?
CK: I think interest comes when what you’re seeking is fulfilled. For me, it was seeing the benefits, feeling the peace and calmness after meditation, the refinement of my anger. Those were the things that I was really happy with. Seeing those benefits strengthened my interest in the practice.
Q: With what kind of mindset should you approach meditation?
CK: An open mind is important. The moment you set expectations around what meditation should be, you limit what it can be. Openness and a growth mindset are two related things that are necessary.
Q: Do you think willpower is important?
CK: Hopefully, meditation is something that you enjoy, and because of the benefits that you see when you start practicing, you enjoy those benefits because they bear fruit. I do think it’s natural to exercise a certain amount of willpower throughout a meditative practice, but not necessarily in meditation. The practice of cleaning requires willpower, because you are consciously cleaning something, and that is not as natural as meditation.
Q: How did a combination of interest, willpower, and openness support your practice?
CK: I think in the beginning, there was some level of willpower required. I wasn’t necessarily seeing the immediate benefits of meditation. I trusted based on what I observed in other people around me. It was important to just get in the chair and sit. That is willpower.
Q: Has having a consistent meditation practice impacted your approach to your career and professional life?
CK: Yes. There are a variety of different decisions that need to be made. I think having a practice allows you to make decisions in the workplace, and cultivate a working style and environment that support everyone’s mutual growth.
I would say that it’s a constant practice of
connecting with your heart and, as a result,
allowing your heart to guide you to make decisions.
Q: How has meditation impacted your interactions and relationships with other people?
CK: Meditation, for the most part, has allowed me to become more empathetic. It has helped me to pause, and that leads to more empathy.
Q: Interactions between friends and family can be very different from interactions with people in the workplace.
CK: I actually think of them as very similar, because in the workplace, you need to be very empathetic. You also need to be empathetic in social situations. You need to be decisive in the workplace, just like you need to be decisive with friends.
Q: We’re often told to follow our hearts, but to take our minds with us. What is it about heart-based meditation that has helped you listen to your heart?
CK: I would say that it’s a constant practice of connecting with your heart and, as a result, allowing your heart to guide you to make decisions. The mind is fickle, and with that fickleness can come wrong decisions. By tapping into your heart, you create a practice that is more unifying.
Meditation, for the most part,
has allowed me to become more empathetic.
It has helped me to pause,
and that leads to more empathy.
Q: What is it about Heartfulness that keeps you committed to it?
CK: I think it’s the lightness inside, and the pranahuti. There are so many aspects that make Heartfulness compelling.
Q: Why are inner peace and refinement important?
CK: We live in such a chaotic world that if we focus on the chaos we can get lost. To be able to go within is really important because we all need that space to recharge, regroup, and refocus, especially nowadays. Introspection is important because it is easy for us to do things on a daily basis that are wrong. By stopping and introspecting, we strengthen our ability to make the right decisions.
Q: What would you say to anyone who is interested in trying heart-based meditation, but doesn’t know where to start?
CK: I would say just sit in a chair and try it. Allow yourself to meditate on your heart for a few minutes, and observe how you feel.
Interviewed by RISHIKA SHARMA
llustrations by ANANYA PATEL
April 01, 2021
April 01, 2021
April 01, 2021