In this 14th episode of The Mindful Initiative podcast, host Nitesh Batra talks to Gopi Krishnaswamy, a Mindfulness coach and a Zen practitioner, who walked away from a corporate life that was a diverse tapestry of experiences, to teach Mindfulness and help people transform their lives. Gopi is one of the first certified SIY teachers (with the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute) in India. In this conversation, Gopi talks about his book, “Creativity Unleashed” and how each one of us can cultivate mindfulness and rediscover creativity that all of us are born with.
Show Transcription >>
Nitesh: Hello and welcome to another episode of The Mindful Initiative podcast. It gives me a great pleasure to introduce our guest, Gopi Krishnaswamy, who is a monk and an entrepreneur and many, many other things.
Nitesh: Without further ado, welcome to the podcast, Gopi.
Gopi: Thank you, Nitesh. It is a pleasure to be here.
Nitesh: When I start these interviews with our guests, I tend to go back to their childhood days and the very beginning because that says a lot about who they are today and I believe that your household was very creative. You were mostly homeschooled. So, if you can talk a little bit about your childhood days and how it has impacted you to become who you are today, that would be a good start for us.
Gopi: Sure – I hope that my parents will not be listening in to this because I’m going to take the creative license actually, to tell a story or two, which they may not entirely agree with.
Nitesh: That’s perfectly okay (with a faint smile).
Gopi: Ofcourse, it’s a matter of perspectives. So this is pretty much how I see what actually transpired. So, I was actually born to writer-teacher parents, and I was born after a gap of almost 10 years. So I strongly suspect that I was a mistake and my parents of course don’t agree. Because I was a mistake, I think I could afford to be treated like a guinea pig, which I think is what they did because by then my father was, you know, deeper into his profession and he had his own views on education and stuff like that. So I think, uh, it became a little bit of an opportunity to test out some of those views at home and therefore, make me a guinea pig. It also happened that in, you know, the formative years of my life, my dad was traveling and teaching in different places which didn’t always coincide with the schooling year– academic year. So, that helped too. So there was being taught by mom, dad, my sister, my brother, and uh, in a sense by the, you know, boys on the street who am I used to play with.
Nitesh: Fantastic. So, the experience was real. So whatever they were learning in real life, they were teaching you rather than you going to school. Where, I believe that— there is a cartoon which says that if you try and teach an elephant to climb a tree, that will never happen. The tree would come down, but the elephant would stay. And I think you were learning from the experiences of people’s lives and what was happening on the street. Is that accurate?
Gopi: Yeah, you could say that. And, I think, you know, there is something to be said about the kind of learning that can happen in a slightly less structured environment outside of the classroom, which is not to say that, you know, they shouldn’t be any structure at all and you know, you don’t need to acquire any of the skills that you typically acquire in formal education. But there is certainly something to be said about, you know, exploring and learning things through others’ experiences and your own experiences through stories. And not just through a classroom. And I think that’s really what, uh, probably shaped a lot of things to follow in my life.
Nitesh: So in, in many ways, you know, when I was reading about you getting to know a little bit about you, you have been an explorer. You like to be grounded in certain ways, but still like to find new things that probably give you joy or happiness. And that has taken you to places. And in one of those places was experiencing meditation and mindfulness. Can you shed a little bit light on that? How and what made you pursue that path and what has that led you to?
Gopi: Uh, well I’m afraid I actually don’t have a, let’s say a very, romantic kind of a story over there to tell you. The truth is that, uh, probably sometime in my early twenties, I was always drawn to the capability of the mind and what it could achieve. Even in my younger years, I was really fascinated by the potential of the mind. And so in my early twenties, I actually had the opportunity to learn this method called the “Silva Method of Mind Control”. And so began my sort of exploration into, let’s say the journey of understanding the mind. One thing led to another, I guess. From Silva, I have moved on into learning self-hypnosis, working on myself initially, using all of that and then moving into, you know, more conventional yoga and meditation and then Zen. And it was through Zen that I somehow discovered that meditation is actually not something you do, but it’s a state that you are in, no matter what you do. And in a sense, that led me into Mindfulness. So, it’s been a beautiful journey over a fair number of years. And, I think one thing has evolved from the other, slowly unwrapping as we go along.
Nitesh: I think just taking that a step forward, what really fascinated me about you, was you talking about your elbow. And, when I initially first met you, I did notice the elbow, you know, as to how you keep your hand, but it didn’t strike me. And, then when I heard you’re talking about it and it just blew my mind away. As to, so many things have happened and you’ve been able to overcome those adversities and it cannot happen to a person who is not really connected to himself. So I would like you to narrate that story for us again. I know you like driving bikes and you know, that’s one of your passions probably, but, but I would like you– if that’s okay with you, to narrate that story, to go a little deeper into that.
Gopi: Sure. So you use the word “overcome”. But I actually see this a little differently and I’ve spoken about this and shared this on multiple platforms where, I’ve had the privilege to share the story. I actually think, um, I am who I am not in spite of this but because of this.
Gopi: So, I’ve broken and paralyzed my arm, you know, so many times that I don’t know which came first .
Gopi: And at some point, there came the realization that look, in no way, does this need to limit my potential. It no way does it need to, you know, prevent me from being who I am. In fact, I can actually learn from these experiences and probably expand myself to achieve my true potential. So I never stopped riding a bike. Of course, I had to take a little break in between because the doctors wouldn’t allow me first. And then, some years ago when I broke my arm all over again, my wife actually hid the keys to my bike. But yeah, except for those little breaks in between, it’s been a good ride. And now I actually don’t think you ride a bike with your hands. I think you ride it with your mind.
Nitesh: Isn’t that true for most of the things? You specifically touched on, the ego and the fear part of it and how the mind is sometimes blocking itself from becoming who you really are or trying to do what you really want to. Is that what motivates you every time and does that take you in different things that you? You apply the same things in everything or how does that thing work?
Gopi: So I think, for me there has been a deep realization that while the mind is a wonderful thing, I mean, it is, essentially– it is responsible for everything around us, right? This table and the microphone and you know, everything else that we have. But somewhere it’s also a little bit of a trap. And the mind can take you that far and then, no more. But then something else has to happen. And I see it in a sense as almost you going as far as the mind will take you and then you get out of the way for the insight to be revealed to you, by greater form of intelligence than your rational conceptual mind.
Gopi: I almost see it like you do everything that you have to do, need to do to get that far and then it’s almost like you have to tune into a different frequency and then there is something that’s actually downloaded to you for which, you need to get out of the way. And when I say you, I actually mean it’s your rational conceptual mind.
Nitesh: I think I can relate to that. I can sense it as well. It has happened many times in my life. And when I see a lot of people performing or in sports, towards the very end, there is always something– that edge that pushes them further and they sometimes can’t define what that is. And I think that’s what you’re talking about. You know, that brings me to the book that you’ve written. Many congratulations on, on publishing your book, “Creativity Unleashed”.
Nitesh: And I had the opportunity to read it. And I think for anyone who’s, who’s looking to be creative in their life or at least explore that creativity, who feel that they’re not creative, I think this is one of the most fascinating books for them to read. And this conversation made me think about the book. I would like to read something that you have put in from, the book, “Altered Traits”. And we’ll talk about that after I read, which says, “At the start of contemplative practice, little or nothing seems to change in us. But after a continued practice, we notice some changes in our way of being, but they come and go. Finally, as the practice stabilizes, the changes are constant and enduring with no fluctuation and these are altered traits. So as you work to manifest your creative genie, remember this beautiful interpretation could well apply to your practice and happy manifesting.”
Nitesh: So, could you expand on that? Why did you choose that as part of the book? Because in your journey, you understand meditation has done many things for you and you understand that extra edge as well. But what in particular made you realize that?
Gopi: The Tibet monk, Milarepa, in one of his writings, which when translated into English, sounds like this–“In the beginning, nothing comes. In the middle, nothing stays. In the end, nothing goes.” So, when you unwrap this in the context of meditation or mindfulness, basically, what it means is that, in the beginning of your practice, it doesn’t come. You know, you’re struggling to sit or you’re struggling to focus or you’re struggling to be in a meditative state. So nothing comes. In the middle of your journey, nothing stays. Which means, it comes when it pleases, it goes when it pleases. But it doesn’t stay. But practice long enough and stay on the path long enough and nothing goes. Which means, then you are able to truly remain in a meditative state, no matter what. The same analogy is what I see, applies to creativity.
Gopi: The difference is that, in the beginning, we are all creative. And then, it kind of goes out of us or gets taken out of us or we let it go out of us. Maybe all of the above in some form, some combination. But then, when you actually start on your journey of rediscovering your creatives for it, it’s very similar. In the beginning, nothing comes, you know, you’re doing all the stuff and you are saying, oh, when am I going to be this awesomely creative guy? And then you’re feeling probably a little frustrated because it’s not happening or you think it’s not happening. And then, after some time it’s almost like you break through a glass ceiling and then, oh, here- some changes. You know, you’ll see that you’re able to come up with these ideas and moments of creativity in your daily life, whatever it is. Maybe you know, it’s just the way you make your omelet. And then, with increased sustained practice, it’s like, wow, you can walk into any situation, any topic, and be sure that you can be creative in some form or the other. So then it doesn’t leave you, right? So then creativity is actually like this energy which is around you, which accompanies you everywhere into all situations in life and it’s there for you to dip into and use.
Nitesh: So, we are all creative in our own ways. And that’s what you’re implying that we just need to go till the end and believe in yourself? Is that an accurate interpretation?
Gopi: I think, yes. I would say we are all born creative and then you know like maybe onions, we grow these layers and move further and further away from our creativity. Some of us of course are fortunate to not do that or at least you know, not let that happen and you know, very strong or powerful ways. And then at some point, I think we start the journey. Kind of, back to the roots, back to rediscovering your inherent creativity.
Nitesh: So in your book, you mention about creativity and you give many examples about different people in defining what creativity is and two that stood out to me– 1. One was Albert Einstein and his story of how he discovered Theory of Relativity. 2. And the second was Mozart. Now, I think a lot of us have this notion that creativity leads to art and great art cannot happen without suffering. And that’s the myth that you’re trying to bust. That’s a thing you are asking people to overcome. And I would like you to expand and I would love to know your thoughts on suffering because it relates to Buddhism a lot because that’s the foundation of Buddhism. And creativity and in every form, relates to some suffering. So I would be curious to know what you think about that.
Gopi: That’s actually a beautiful question and thank you for asking that. I personally don’t think of, you know, suffering as necessarily a bad thing and I don’t necessarily think that suffering is a must for creativity to find expression. I think there is a certain path which most of us, you know, normal human beings end up taking, which involves suffering because suffering is a construct of the mind. And this is what the Buddha also said. Suffering is caused by the mind and by its interpretations of so many different things. Right? And in a sense, it’s in finding liberation from suffering, that you find enlightenment or nirvana or salvation. And in a sense, we’re also kind of talking about that moment of creativity come in, when you go past the mind. So in both these cases, the limitation is really the mind. The mind causes suffering. The mind also inhibits creativity to some extent.
Gopi: So, the similarity I see between both of these is that in developing an ability to transcend the mind at will you actually develop the ability to not suffer. And you also parallelly develop the ability to be creative at will. So it’s, you know, like a buy one get one free kind of a deal.
Nitesh: So, it’s how you train your mind. How, you tell yourself that this is not really suffering, this is what is and being in the moment. And I think it relates back to being mindful as well. Right?
Gopi: Yeah. And I think, you know, the analogy of this, uh, was very beautifully said to me sometime back when I was sharing a particular story with my friend about how, you know, I met with an accident and I had to be stitched up on my chin in a remote village and they didn’t have local anesthesia.
Gopi: So they decided to just stitch me up. With whatever, you know, a jute string and a gunny needle that they had. And I was actually having a chat with the doctor while all this was going on. And of course that freaked them out a little bit. He kept asking if I was okay or if I was under the influence of something else. And I was narrating this to my friend and I was saying, look, I mean, of course there is pain at a physical level, right? But you can choose what to do with that. And he kicked in, in that moment and spoke about how Sadguru has actually explained this through an incident that happened to him when he was riding a bike and he had an accident and he was being patched up and he said, “I felt pain, but I choose not to suffer.” So pain is something you feel at a body level and possibly even at a mental level, but then suffering is a choice.
Nitesh: Optional. I think that that leads me to the next, question. I think it’s a good segue as well, talking about Karuna – compassion. And you’ve talked a lot about the need for every human to be compassionate. And that’s something that you say that mindfulness is on top of everything, but compassion is something that we all inherently have, as well. What is compassion and why do we need compassion in today’s world? I personally think, you know, it’s the desire, but lot of people don’t even understand what Karuna and compassion is. So why is– if you can define compassion in your own words and why do we need it? And why is it the top?
Gopi: So I think, humans are genetically wired for compassion. I think we are compassionate by, by default. It’s in our DNA or in our inherent nature. However, it’s through the social mechanisms and life, that somehow we tend to end up identifying with things which fit within our, you know, frameworks or what we perceive as right or wrong or good or bad. And then we find compassion for things we agree with and things we like. And then we don’t, for many other things. But then, I also think that this whole identification is a result of the dysfunctional mind. Even in, uh, Buddhist tradition, there is a beautiful concept of inter-being, which talks about– there is no separate-ness between anything and anything else. So in a sense, you know, I remember my teacher used to actually say that if I could taste that cloud in my meal, I had eaten mindfully. So the whole concept of inter-being allows us to just give way to that compassion to express itself, normally. I think, you know, often these days, even in you know, leadership circles, management circles, we talk about how empathy is so important. We’re also talking about, you know, compassionate leadership and even in that context, I want to clarify that, you know, compassion is actually about doing the right thing for others. The right thing may sometimes even be the hard thing to do, right?
Gopi: But in being able to see that we’re all the same, right, I would essentially want to do the right thing for you, which I would also want for myself, right? So why would I want something worse for you if you were me? And therein, we are able to kind of open up to the, you know, wellsprings of compassion and in a sense, rest in our natural state, which is, one of compassion.
Nitesh: I wish, and I hope people see that and the kind of world that we are living in right now and there is so much disparity amongst us humans and there’s a race that we are all running, which we don’t know where we are going. I think just by thinking about, I mean, the word itself is so beautiful that just thinking about it can make you feel calmer and whether it’s in the corporate life, whether it’s in a life where people don’t even have access to clean water, you know, everyone can use compassion in their own ways.
Nitesh: So we are getting towards the end of our time here. And one of the final questions that I have for you is, you yourself are very creative as an individual. That shows from the different things that you have done in your life or are doing.
Nitesh: But if someone has to start this journey of creativity in their life, what is that you would recommend them to do? How would they get started?
Gopi: I think the first thing that you need to do is to actually recognize that you were creative at some point. Uh, you just have to think of your childhood perhaps and how you would make stories up and you know, invent games and all of that. To realize that, you were creative at some point. And then it’s just a question of rediscovering that, right? So I think that would be the first step because it does give you the confidence that at least it was there. And if anything, it is just probably, you know, blocked. That said, after the reminder of course, you know, there are all these techniques that I’ve, you know, advocated in my book, which one can look at.
Gopi: But in a sense I think it’s really about finding a way to increase or enhance that energy, which is creativity and noticing that as it enhances, it is just bursting by itself to express itself through you. You don’t need to do much, you just have to allow it to bubble up and rise up. So, 1. First up, I would say, remember you were creative. 2. Allow that energy to arise either through techniques or just through gay abandon, you know. Forget everything else and you know, break into a jig if that’s what it means or go into your kitchen and make something or, or whatever expression that you can allow for that energy to express itself through you and then allow that to happen more and more and more. Let it show up in everything. In the way you interact with people, in the way you walk and the way talk, in every walk of life. And before you know, it you’re living that, you know creative energy, you are allowing it to flow through you.
Nitesh: And be more mindful and let the ego dissipate as you become more and more creative.
Nitesh: So before we end, we usually ask a few questions and these are sort of rapid fire questions. If you’re okay with those questions, we’ll ask those questions.
Gopi: I’m usually a bit slow, but yeah, we’ll work with however rapid I can be.
Nitesh: That’s fine. I think I’m very slow in my speaking as well
Gopi: Okay. We’ll work with that. In fact, I say even when I rush, I rush slowly. So, I’ll try to be as rapid but slowly.
Nitesh: I think that’s a good start to our first question. If there was one place in the world where you would want to, what would that place be?
Gopi: I think that would completely be here and now!
Nitesh: If you had a choice to define a day for you, what would that day look like for you?
Gopi: Well, I think it would pretty much look like, uh, every or any other day for me. I truly believe that most days are perfect days for me where I get to, you know, spend time with myself doing things that I, I love and I enjoy doing. Spending time with others, around me, whom I’m close to and uh, I love my work. It allows me to make a difference to other people’s lives. And yeah, if there is space for me, if there is space for others and if there is space for my work, that for me makes the perfect day.
Nitesh: And if you had to communicate with someone, would you do it in person? Would you do it over the phone or would you do it video conferencing way?
Gopi: My preferred choice is usually to do it in person, but then if that’s not possible then I would opt for one of the other modes.
Nitesh: And to the same person and in this I’m picking up from another podcast that I hear. If you have to deliver the same person a bad news, how would you do that?
Gopi: Again, preferably in person.
Nitesh: Perfect. I think that would be it for now. Thank you so much for being a guest on our show. I truly enjoyed learning about creativity, about your background, about your experiences and I’m sure our listeners would tremendously benefit from the words of wisdom that you had to share with us.
Gopi: Thank you very much, Nitesh, for having me on your podcast and for all your insightful questions and your kind responses to whatever I’ve said. And for holding the space for me to express myself. Thank you very much.
Nitesh: Thank you. Thank you so much everyone, for listening to another episode of The Mindful Initiative podcast. If you like our podcast, please remember to share it with your friends and family and please remember to rate us on iTunes or Apple podcast or wherever you listen to your podcast. Thank you so much.
Know more about Gopi: Gopi’s Personal Site
Link to Gopi’s New book: Creativity Unleashed: 48 Days to Mindfulness to Unlock Your Creative Spirit0
Editing: Juan Pablo Velasquez Luna
Transcription: Gita Venkat
Research: Pranjali Maneriker