Saturday, May 6, 2017

The Car on the Wrong Side of the Road


(Image from pixabay.com)

You see someone driving a car on the wrong side of the road. You can see the driver's face clearly. What would be your reaction the next time you see this driver again, though this time the car is in the right direction?

Well, I experienced something somewhat similar quite recently. I liked to read passages and watch talks of a popular spiritual guru. I found his talks to be quite insightful, and appealing. However, recently, I found his views on a topic close to my heart, to be diametrically opposite to mine. To me, it seemed that this one time he was driving on the wrong side of the road. I further felt that just maybe, he had taken his particular position with the expectation that it would be popular.

After this, all further talks and writings of his seemed not to inspire me. I thought I might as well move away from his writings and speeches completely. After a period of silence and calm though, it seemed that this reaction was inappropriate. Nevertheless, I continued to hold an opposite view on the matter which had triggered this reaction. Had this happened between two friends, we could have potentially debated it further, explained our positions and possibly amicably continued to disagree.

As I pondered further over this, I realized I had several choices which were all credible - I could segment his talks into categories which I wanted to follow, I could listen/read all of them and decide what I wanted to absorb from it, I could listen to other speakers and contrast views to introspect, and I could also invite opinions from other friends and see if I could learn something new. These are all choices – far less extreme, also more sensible and appropriate. Quite possibly, it would also be mentally more calming.

While we walk together with others many times in life, in fact, we are also walking alone. Each of us has to find his own way, however closely we follow others.

Sometimes I will follow, sometimes I will lead, sometimes I will wander, sometimes I will get lost, and yet I will always move, listening to the voice within.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Mindfulness – What are we trying to do?

This question is often a problem in itself. A definition is meant to be accurate, and literal.



While Mindfulness is largely about present moment awareness, this phrase often falls short to convey what it stands for. As you practice – you uncover more of what present moment awareness stands for including originality, acceptance, trust, humility, letting go and so many other things. Often mindfulness & meditation are mistaken for concentration techniques.

Much of what we do is a means to an end – we concentrate to complete some tasks. This in turn hopefully delivers rewards for us – financial or at the minimum recognition and appreciation. This makes it difficult to appreciate the impact Mindfulness has – since all we are trying to do is to be who we are - NOW.

I have found it easier to explain Mindfulness with real life examples. For instance I love nature and when I watch the sunset, I am often transfixed. Each moment as the sun nears the horizon seems wonderful with the sky changing colour and state. If I am interested in watching a particular section of the sky or I want a closer view, I have the option of zooming in/clicking pictures. If I am perched precariously or in a crowd (at times there is jostling as well), I have to be careful with awareness of the overall context.



So in watching the sunset – I am not pursuing a specific target, but allowing my experience to guide me. I accept it for what it is – without wishing the sun were bigger or smaller. I have an overall context, but zoom in & out as I want to. The sunset has my attention and to soak in the experience, I avoid doing anything else but watch. Mindfulness, and meditation is a lot like that. In fact, if you can relate to the concept in this way, meditation is effortless and fulfilling (though it may uncover pains) - as it is meant to be.

Meditation, when viewed as a means to an end, often fails. This is because the mind is certain to constantly evaluate the results, returning to the very problem mindfulness seeks to address. If you practice, the benefits certainly accrue pretty quickly.

(Images from pixabay.com)

Friday, December 30, 2016

New Year Resolutions and Plans can Wait!


(Image from pixabay.com)

Well, that is not to say we should not be making them. It is only that they can wait – if only for just a few hours. It makes better sense to end the year with gratitude to others, before moving on to other things.

Watch this video I created.

video


Gratitude fills our heart and soul, other than being only fair that we thank people who have been part of our lives for the past year. Each person would have had a different impact on this – but with all of them we have experienced more of life which has better equipped us to face tomorrow. When we express gratitude selflessly, we expand our souls – becoming bigger than we were before. Similarly, it is important we receive gratitude with humility and grace. At the end of it, we have two people who have learnt to look up and see beyond themselves.

I take this opportunity to thank all of you who have been around – either in person or virtually. You have enriched my life in many ways, more than you might think.

Thank You All! There is a lot to look forward to next year! Best wishes for the New Year!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

You know what - I am Right!



(Image from pixabay.com)

Many of us disagree with the other over many matters. It does not take too long to form an opinion on where we stand. Quite often, once we have decided on our stand on the matter, we cannot wait for the other person to stop talking so that we may interject with our opinion. Many times, when the discussion at hand is not fact based but rather based on judgement, we find ourselves at opposite sides of the discussion. And the urge to declare our opinion superior is irresistible with a “You know what – I am right!” to finish with. 

Social media has magnified the effect several times. Just recently I was witness to one person posting a comment. What followed was a vehement objection echoing the thought “You know what – I am right!” (and not quite as polite as this!). Some of his buddies next jumped into the fray and the thought now moved to “He is right!” and very quickly morphed into “We are right!”. The speed at which this happens on social media can be overwhelming and also concerning. 

Wisdom tells us that we need to create space between a thought and our response – we need to respond with maturity rather than react recklessly. Mindfulness practice can be invaluable in this. The practice of consciously examining our thoughts and choosing our response in terms of fairness and best intent for both parties is something when cultivated is invaluable. 

I have personally felt that all major disagreements, relationship breakups and even conflicts all start with one person not adequately examining this one thought - “You know what. I am right!”. This person either acts alone or the thought travels (again un-examined) forward to others and morphs into more dangerous forms.

Achieving true balance in how we respond can take time – weeks, months or even years. We are after all, attempting to unlearn a bad habit formed since very long. The great Indian sage Ramana Maharishi had advocated a practice of rigorous self enquiry in understanding our true self. We can apply a similar technique by examining this one thought “You know what, I am right!”. If applied intensely it can traverse further thoughts and the underlying basis for why we feel this way. It is then a conscious choice on how we wish to respond.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

A Reminder from a Sparrow


My wife called me excitedly and I went quickly, to find her pointing her finger out of the kitchen glass door. There was a sparrow pecking away at some boiled rice. She then told me that the sparrow had perched itself outside our kitchen chirping. As she looked out, she felt it was calling out to her. Thinking just maybe it is hungry, she placed some boiled rice at the edge of the railing. The sparrow pecked away in haste and that was the scene I watched. While the scene had it's touch of sadness, it was also beautiful. It was delightful to watch as the sparrow ate the rice.

I thought it was worth taking a picture or a video of the scene and grabbed my phone. As I lifted my hand, though close to 5 feet away, the sparrow looked up and seemed nervous. I abandoned the attempt and lowered my hands. We just continued to watch. After a few minutes, the sparrow hopped a few steps and flew off. 

This is probably an every day event with nothing extraordinary. And yet, when we immersed ourselves in it, it seemed to fill our souls. Mindful moments have that effect. 

We, humans, have distanced ourselves greatly from nature and other life forms. When I was in school, we kids used to play a game called “Name – Place – Animal – Thing”. A starting letter used to be chosen and we had to find words in all these categories. While only a game, it is I think, a reflection of how we think. There is us – names, and there are places – quite useful to us, then there are animals (birds, reptiles are included) and finally things. Evolution has made us a powerful life form, and we deal with nature & other life forms from the aspect of power and control. If only we recognised the oneness of the universe and used harmony and understanding as the interaction principle, rather than power, the universe would be better off and consequently we too. I suppose we have such attitude issues with other humans many times as well.

It is unclear what the precise impact of global warming will be, but hopefully it can prompt us to introspect and re-align out attitude and approach to nature and other life forms.

We demand a lot from a universe which has very simply offered itself to us in it's entirety. We must learn. And today, it was a sparrow which was the messenger.


(Image from pixabay.com. As I wrote I did not click a picture of the sparrow we watched).


Sunday, November 20, 2016

Coming Alive with the Supermoon


(Image from pixabay.com)


Just a few days back (14 Nov 2016), we had a wonderful sight of a supermoon. The moon appeared bigger than usual and was beautiful to look at. I saw a number of excellent photos clicked by friends on social media. Sights like this spark something within us, making us more alive. Nature does that to us, and the supermoon certainly did that to us that day.

There are several possible reasons we love the moon:
  • It is the biggest body close to our planet – in sight and keeping us company most days.
  • It is also the brightest body in the night sky, reflecting light on our planet which we can see.
  • It is the only other celestial body man has set foot on.
  • The moon has a personality – different shades and lighted shapes. In that sense it comes alive in the sky every night.
  • It has served paranormal and thriller authors well – seemingly impacting our personalities!

We, of course, thankfully, do not reason why we like the moon making a list of positives as above. If we were to take this further we would have to make a list of negatives as well, such as -
  • The moon has no atmosphere and cannot support life.
  • It is a slave body trapped by the Earth's gravity with very little to contribute to us.
  • The moon sports no colour – being primarily shades of white, black and grey, with one side of the moon being always dark to us.
  • The tides it causes on Earth is more a nuisance and also puts us more at risk at times.

This is not how we relate to the moon – we appreciate its presence and are happy that it is around in the sky, and appreciate it for what it is.

We, however, find it difficult to have a relation like this with the company we have on Earth - people, animals and greenery where we are more analytical – trying to reason what value they offer us.

Can we re-orient our relationships on Earth taking a cue from how we relate to the moon?

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Now why did....?




(Image from pixabay.com)

A big reason for heart burn among many of us is the question “Now why did?”.


“Now why did he say that?”

“Now why did she ignore me?”

….and the list can go on and on..


I have found myself asking this question many times and find that our approach to it is an important one. This question might come about in a wide variety of circumstances when we observe another person – an unexpected decision, an inexplicable move considered foolish, an action significantly deviant from our own values.

The search for an answer to this question many times also causes us to form an opinion about the other. This seems inevitable doesn't it? After all, words and action do reveal character! And yet the fact of the matter is that we are more often than not (unless it is a clear case of violation of universal values) very poorly placed to judge motive of the other. We are not in their circumstance, we have not had their experiences, and we do not share their priorities or aspirations.

The question by itself is interesting since it offers possibilities as well. An analysis might reveal something about the circumstance, motivation and reasoning of the other person in what he or she did or spoke. If however this question is viewed in terms of a conflict between egos it can be very dividing - causing acrimony, anxiety and conflict.

Wisdom advises us to be dispassionate in life – and that is especially true when this question springs to our mind. It is worthwhile delving on this question to understand rather than to criticize.

Does this question surface in your mind often as well? How do you deal with it?

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Sometimes you just have to Reboot!



(Image from pixabay.com)

Have you been in situations when your computer system or smartphone simply will not respond and you have no option but to reboot/restart it? While technology obviously is getting more stable and powerful, reboot is still an option we have to exercise at times. Once you find the current state of the device unacceptable - you pause, think, and find that you have no choice but to reboot…..

This post is not about technology though!

What if you are trying to solve a jigsaw puzzle and find that you have gone haywire?
What if you are going somewhere and feel you have gone off track?
What if a conversation has gone off course and you find yourself in a conflict with the other person?
Most importantly, what if you find yourself in an unacceptable mental state (possibly of anger, despondancy, hopelessness or fear)?

In all the above situations, you need to pause, think and see if you retrace some of the steps. But there will be situations when you simply need to start over and give up all that has happened recently.

Of the examples above, I consider the last one the most interesting. As we go through the events of the day, they leave their impressions – about people, places, things. We view the world in future with the past impressions clouding our vision.

You shop at a store and did not quite like the attitude of one of the employees. You think about whether you should go there again. Well, it was just a single employee and possibly at a store you have been going to for years. Why not view this in perspective, if it is an isolated incident?

You had a bad argument on a topic with someone – you are wary the next time you discuss anything. The likelihood of disagreeing again may in fact be quite low, and there may be more mature ways to conduct the conversation this time even if it so happens.

In my post Addition and Subtraction, over and above our natural tendency to add to what we have (skills, money, connections….) I had written about the need to also develop a habit of subtracting regrets, fears, attitudes, opinions, biases, pride, and develop an attitude of oneness with others.

Children have this remarkable ability to reboot – they have this amazing quality of viewing everything with a sense of adventure and newness.

At times, you need to introspect and just reboot, to get away from your current state of mind so that you may view everything as if it were fresh and new…..

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Have you been Idling?



(Image from pixabay,com)

There is a lot all of us want to do in life, and there does not seem to be enough time. At work, people are racing against time to meet goals and stay ahead of competition, and at home there seems to be not enough time for friends and family.

Against this backdrop, what is our reaction when we see people seemingly idling away, doing nothing? It is after a sheer waste of time, and time is a limited commodity.

However, let us assume for the time being that we have done what we planned for the day. Instead of rushing to find more things to do – is idling such a bad thing?
“Everybody seems to think I'm lazy
I don't mind, I think they're crazy.
Running everywhere at such a speed
Till they find there's no need.”

― John Lennon
The need to be productive and stay ahead in a seemingly difficult environment makes us restless – and our mind is constantly looking for new things to do. A point to ponder – do all the activities we do tie to a central life purpose for us and make us really happy? Why do we assume that the busier we are, the more we accomplish, and the happier we can be? This attitude of constant action often distracts from core purpose, allows fears to prey on our mind. It also causes us to look down upon and neglect activities such as meditation and sleep which are healing and important for physical and mental well-being in the longer term.
“There's never enough time to do all the nothing you want.”

― Bill Watterson
There might be merit to idleness after all. However, even idleness needs the right attitude. There is little purpose in being idle, if all we are doing is reviewing fears and regrets. Idleness should mean submission to nature and the order of the universe. Take a walk among the woods, by the sea or even in the streets early in the morning, and find a calm place to just sit and observe. My personal experience is that idling can be very energizing!
“I have often wondered whether especially those days when we are forced to remain idle are not precisely the days spend in the most profound activity. Whether our actions themselves, even if they do not take place until later, are nothing more than the last reverberations of a vast movement that occurs within us during idle days.
In any case, it is very important to be idle with confidence, with devotion, possibly even with joy. The days when even our hands do not stir are so exceptionally quiet that it is hardly possible to raise them without hearing a whole lot.”

― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters on Life

Why not give idling a try today? Of course, only after completing all your responsibilities. And just maybe, you might be able to smile at people who think you are wasting your time!

Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Power of Simplicity


In the competitive business environment we are in today, there is considerable pressure to work harder & longer, learn skills & techniques, and network furiously. This is an age when life seems incredibly complex and stressful. However, activity frenzy can cloud purpose (see also Is Activity Frenzy Clouding Purpose).



Purpose should be central to all activities we do. If purpose is clear, the means to the goal make their appearance for the adventurer. Today is a good day to pause and reflect - Oct 2 is Mahatma Gandhi's birth anniversary. Many years have passed since we lost his presence (most of us never having been alive during his time), and yet the lessons his philosophy and life offer continue to be relevant, in fact very strongly so.

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”

― Mahatma Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi was a very unusual leader – he was soft spoken, and was extremely down to earth. He found strength to lead from his purpose and values. He maintained that he had nothing new to offer, and the principles of truth, non-violence and love are old concepts. While this may be true, he was able to apply it on a scale and circumstances which has few parallels. There has been some scattered criticism recently on some of his views in the early stages of his life in South Africa. I believe a sensible response to this is from his grandson Rajmohan Gandhi who has traced how Mahatma Gandhi's philosophy, views and life experiences evolved over time.

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

― Mahatma Gandhi

No one is born a hero. If we regard Mahatma Gandhi as a unique figure in history, it is due to his evolution into a person of character in an extremely challenging period & tense environment. We can map his life to Joseph Campbell's hero's journey, with a call to adventure in his initial days in South Africa being a critical turning point, culminating finally in the end of the freedom struggle for India.

“Where there is love there is life.”

― Mahatma Gandhi

Mahatama Gandhi was an open minded learner, borrowing liberally from philosophies and practices around the world which he could apply to his life. Susan Cain in her excellent book “Quiet” also explores how Mahatma Gandhi is one of the most respected figures among the young. It is not difficult to understand why – he had no pretensions and was simplicity personified, other than his message of truth, love and non-violence resonating among the people.

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

― Mahatma Gandhi

Simplicity can be powerful – if backed by purpose, values and action. Mahatma Gandhi's life was indeed his message.

(Images from pixabay.com)