Spirituality and Programming

On October 27, 2012

This post is partly in response to my previous post “Non-programming skills every programmer should have” which caused some debate on Hacker News. In this post, I will try to explain what spirituality means and how programmers(or anyone) can benefit from it.

This is a very sensitive topic and there are more than one ways to explain it. What I say here is strictly based on my experience. I have read plenty of books on spirituality and am practicing meditation since 4+ years. I also do lot of self-reflection whenever I am free, a habit I had since high school.

Still, it doesn't mean I have the right authority to teach anything on such a sensitive subject. Far from it, I am just a beginner. That's why I strictly recommend learning more about spirituality from higher authorities and masters only, who have already perfected it and live their day-to-day life practicing it.

Changing your thought process and the way you see everything isn't easy. So, it's perfectly fine if you don't agree with anything I say here. It totally depends upon your willingness, openness of mind, and curiosity to understand more about yourself.

If you think you can improve your personal and professional life by practicing meditation and being spiritual, please do so under proper guidance from a trusted authority only. Meditating in a wrong way can cause more harm than benefit. That's why having proper guidance is very important.

Also, don't force yourself to understand everything in one day. It takes some time and practice to understand these concepts. Start by spending few minutes a day doing some self-reflection/meditation and gradually increase your time, little by little, as you gain more control over yourself.

What is Spirituality?

First let me state clearly what is not spirituality

  • It's not being superstitious or having blind faith, which cannot be realized by oneself.
  • It's not simply being religious.
  • It's not philosophy.
  • It's not imagining yourself to be something, or fantasizing about some good place.
  • It's not ignoring everything else around you and living in a secluded place.
  • It's not ignoring your body needs to practice something rigorously.

What spirituality really is

  • It's a state of being, and living with awareness/mindfulness.
  • It's an honest and sincere attempt to understand yourself.
  • It's trying to understand your own nature, your feelings, your thoughts, your desires.
  • It can be experienced and practiced by every human being irrespective of their religion, caste and country.
  • It is pure science which you can verify, and see the results yourself when you practice it.

Spirituality is a way of understanding yourself, your true nature and who you really are.

Understanding yourself may seem to be easier, than it actually is. You already know everything about yourself, right? Things that you like or dislike, your past achievements or failures, your future ambitions and goals. But, these things don't define you and you are not made up of them.

These are the things that have happened to you or in which you participated. Your day-to-day actions are based upon your experience, your knowledge and your perception of the outside world. Had your experiences with the outside world been different, you actions today could have been different too.

But, there are still some things, based on your inner nature, that you might have done the same way, irrespective of your experience and knowledge. Some people are kind and helpful by nature, just as some are selfish and arrogant by nature.

Still, at times we also see a selfish person doing some kind deed, and some kind person acting selfishly. This is because all such thoughts and feelings are present in each one of us.

Feelings and thoughts can be good or bad. Good feelings and thoughts include compassion, love, respect, appreciation, truth, justice. Bad feelings and thoughts include selfishness, hatred, arrogance, jealousy, lie, injustice.

All these feelings and thoughts are present in every human being. They arise inside your body and mind because, certain things happen which promote their occurrence. It's purely based upon the conditions of cause and effect. When certain causes happen, the respective effects also happen.

By being spiritual, you can understand as soon as any such feeling or thought arises in your body or mind. With regular practice, you can completely eradicate all the bad feelings like selfishness, jealousy, and hatred.

A spiritual person lives from the inside out. What does it mean? It means he acts in accordance with his inner self. The outer world doesn't dictate his actions. His inner self acts and guides him in doing any action.

He does not react to situations. He only acts in accordance with the truth that he sees in a given situation.

A bit more about the inner self. Aren't your desires and actions already based on your inner self? Sometimes, out of nowhere, you suddenly feel like having something. Maybe a chocolate, a pizza or listening to a song. Isn't this something that comes from the inside?

This desire or feeling is not your inner self. There is no limit to desires. Once you fulfill one desire, another one comes to your mind. Even if all your desires that you have today come true, tomorrow you will want some other thing.

If you don't pay any attention to your cravings and greed, they simple die away. Thoughts come to your mind, stay there for few moments and then pass away. Just like the waves of the sea, which rise and fall back into the sea.

Any thought that comes to your mind is creation of the mind itself. It may seem to be arising because of some external cause but, it's created in your mind. In a weak mind such thoughts are born continuously one after another, based on anything that the mind sees around it. A strong mind can recognize any unwanted thought and stop participating in it, at that moment itself.

By practicing awareness every moment in your life, you can live a more fulfilling life. Spirituality is this state of awareness and being your true self. Spirituality means to live in sync with your inner being.

Benefits of being spiritual

  • By regularly practicing it, you can solve your day-to-day life problems in a more permanent way. It's not just simple tips or tweaks in your lifestyle, that some self-help books recommend you, which only work for short time, but almost always fail in the long-term.
  • You are completely aware of everything that goes around you and inside you. So, you always do the right thing which will benefit every one.
  • You will improve your concentration power and will be able to focus your mind completely in doing your work.
  • You know immediately when bad feelings and thoughts like anger, jealousy, greed pop up in your mind. Once you are aware of them, you can choose to ignore them completely. Nothing good ever comes out of such negative actions.
  • You are in complete control of your thoughts and feelings rather than being controlled by them.
  • You will feel more calm, satisfaction and completely stress-free when you live with it in your day-to-day life.

How to become spiritual?

The most recommended way, and perhaps the best way, to achieve this state of spirituality is by practicing meditation. Meditation is the path you take to become a spiritual person. There are several ways of doing meditation. You have to remember that it's just the path and not the destination.

Meditation and Spirituality aren't the same thing. A spiritual person meditates to understand himself more clearly. Here, meditation is just a part of what the spiritual person does. But a person who meditates isn't necessarily a spiritual person.

When you will start meditating you will see that, at first, it feels good only when you meditate. It's effect doesn't last long. But as you continue your practice, you will find that you can think with the same meditative mind all the time, if you only take some efforts in doing so.

If you want to further explore and know more about spirituality and meditation, here are some good books which I have read and found useful.

Dhammapada(another version can be downloaded here for free)
Notes to Myself(not exactly spiritual but contains good self-reflections)
As a Man Thinketh(not spiritual but makes you think in right direction)

How programmers can benefit from spirituality?

After reading the benefits of spiritual practice, which I mentioned above, you can already figure out how it can help you in coping with all the stress, negativity and pressure in your everyday life.

Although these benefits apply to anyone who practices them, however, I will state few examples which are closely related to programmers and other similar tech professionals.

Better focus
Serious programming requires complete focus and discipline. It's very easy to get distracted by something and lose your focus.

These distractions can be external or internal. External distractions are things that you cannot control like a telephone call, people around you chit-chatting, some one loudly playing music on his system. Internal distractions are things that you can control like random thoughts coming to your mind, day dreaming, thinking and worrying about past events or future.

By practicing spirituality, you can do your work with complete awareness. If any distraction comes, you immediately become aware of it and have the control over your mind to ignore such distractions, instead of paying attention to them. Thus you can avoid wasting your time on unnecessary things and do your work with complete focus.

Better self-control
It's a common habit to start our day by checking our email account, or social networking sites like facebook and twitter. Without self-control, we end up spending more time on such sites than we originally intended to.

We indulge in surfing internet aimlessly, browsing from one website to another. As a result, we end up spending hours and hours of time, instead of actually doing work. This has happened to me before, and still happens sometimes.

The reason this happens is because we aren't paying much attention to our actions. When we are fully focused and aware of the things that we do, we are more likely to use our time in doing the work that's most important for now. Other things can wait.

With better self-control, it's possible to resist any kind of temptation and desire, and concentrate only on our work. You are bound to be more productive and it will also show in the quality of your work.

Giving your best even under pressure
There are times when we worry too much about deadlines and come under pressure to finish a piece of work. Worrying too much affects our performance and we are not able to give our best under such conditions.

A little bit of pressure is essential sometimes. But too much worrying is very likely to affect your performance. A spiritual person understands that creating the right causes produces right effects and does all his work with this in mind.

With this mindset, he can put more efforts in doing the right actions which he can completely control, and is not worried about the results, which may not always be in his control.

Stress-free living
Programmers also have to deal with stress on a regular basis because of the demands of the new technology. Be it learning a new language, fixing software bugs, or working with other non-programmers who simply don't understand a programmers point of view.

The best stress buster that can be activated any time and is always present with you is your own breathe. When you feel stress, simply try to focus on your breathe for few minutes. Take deep breathe and observe it, as you inhale and exhale it from your nose. By being spiritual you will be able to practice mindful breathing more easily, and feel stress-free after practicing it.

These are just some typical examples of situations which most programmers would have already come across. The important thing to keep in mind is that you will know the right thing to do in any given situation.

Whether you are a programmer or any working individual, you will surely improve the quality of your personal and professional life by being a spiritual person.

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