Being A Women – What Do You Know?

‘There will always be a$$*0**$ at work. You have to learn to deal with them.’ My first ever mentor told me – and I did not see her as a mentor then, but now I am very grateful. I learnt a lot, A LOT from her.

I was in my late twenties and my first job after my MBA. I was on a rotational program. A peer of mine and I got assigned to a project for six months. Two weeks into the job, my boss called me into his room and gave me a wad of papers and said, ‘Can you make copies of this?’ I remember not knowing what to say or do. I took the copies with me, went to my task, and it dawned on me that he is treating me like a secretary. I went down to his office with the papers and told him, ‘You do not pay me MBA salary to make copies; ask your secretary.’ I remember my heart was beating fast, and I spent the next few days in a daze. I eventually let my coordinator know – she said, ‘Don’t worry, this won’t affect your performance.’ I am sure my peer, who was a male, never had to go through this.

I remember talking to my female friend (mentor mentioned earlier), an executive at a leading company. She told me very clearly that this does happen at work, and I have to learn to deal with it. I am very grateful she did. I never entered the workforce, thinking I need to prepare mentally for such scenarios. Maybe we should prepare both men and women!

It’s been a long time since this incident, and I have learnt to handle myself. How to work in an all-male team? How to identify types of men? But, even now, when I think of the incident, there is some turmoil in my heart. The reason why this incident bubbled up in my memories is – Moxie, Netflix move about patriarchy.

The issue of patriarchy existed when I was born and still exists today. Things have improved. I know it has gotten better, but there is a part of me that baulks at the unfairness of it all. And it is hard to blame one person at it – so if you cannot blame one, blame all. Yes, we are all a part of why it happens; it is up to each of us to be aware of it and take the right steps. 

Where do we go from here? Spend some time understanding the problem. We are so quick to come up with solutions in the form of committees or give examples of supporting women etc. It is good that you do that, but before anything else – stay in our shoes for a minute or two – and that is all, right action will arise.

I know we have evolved when there is no need for a blog like this to be written. So, do you know what it feels like? Really, feel like? (If you like this blog, you may enjoy this blog)

Have You Experienced Time Yet?

  

We might all think we run our lives – and we are all wrong. Time runs this entire world. The little watches we have on our wrists, calendars on the walls, or our electronic devices rule the world. From the time we wake up to the alarm to the time we go to bed – all we do is run around the clock.

It is almost ten. Is breakfast ready yet?
I have a meeting in ten minutes – can we do this later?
I have to get this done now.
I wish I had more hours in the day?
Where does the time go?

Sounds familiar! We live in a mad world where the human-made concept of time shackles us all. Nature does not live on a timetable, and neither do the planets and sun. I understand that we need to have some concept of time to live in a civilized fashion. But like all things, we have become slaves to time.

Given that time has such significant importance in our lives, one would think that we have experienced time, right? But, have we – experienced time? The past and the future that we talk about are just thoughts that occur in our mind, but not something we know as real—the closest thing to time that we do experience is this moment – NOW. We may plan for the future or repent our past – the only place where we can live and do something is this moment. However, we all live everywhere except in the present – and we wonder why we are not happy?

Imagine you need to get a loaf a bread. You get into the car so that you can get a loaf of bread. You go to the grocery store so that you can get that loaf of bread. You stand in the line so that you can get the loaf of bread. And finally, you get home and eat that loaf of bread so that you can get on with the next thing. And you never even taste that loaf of bread.

Can you see why life is unfulfilling because we never live? We treat this moment as a means to something else. We are conditioning our mind to ‘Live’ in the future or the past but never NOW.

Since we treat every moment as a means to do something that we are never living, no wonder we all go through life feeling something is missing. So, what do we do? First is the awareness that there are two dimensions to living – vertical and horizontal. The purpose of washing dishes is to wash dishes and not to clean them. The primary goal is to wash dishes, and the secondary is to clean them.

In summary, it means doing one thing at a time without thinking about the result and the next item after that. Even if you do, it is secondary – what matters is how mindful you are of what you are doing now.

As you read this article, are you aware of the letters flashing in front of your eyes, or is this article stopping you from getting on with the next moment – which will happen in the NOW?

Are you ready to fly and soar?

I watched a cartoon movie called Rio- about a domesticated macaw named Blu who goes to Rio from Minnesota to mate with a female named Jewel and produce more offsprings of his kind. 

Jewel is free-spirited and literally ‘wild’, and Blu does not even know how to fly. And in the climax, while saving Jewel’s life, he ends up flying accidentally. All his life Blu lived in a cage, never flew and then when he got a chance to spread his wings, he never looked back. 

Have you wondered how many of us, including you and me – are in Blu’s category? We live in our routine studded life where the unhappiness due to the ups and downs of life is considered normal. You did not get the promotion – of course, you are sad. You got the promotion – others are jealous. There is no perfect life situation, but we keep living life as if it is or even worse do our best to make it perfect. Remember, in a bet against the casino – Casino always wins just as Universe as the last word.

Our minds and ego love routine or control so much that they clip our wings and we forget that we can spread our wings and fly. Sometimes it is the external world that clips our wings – societal norms, peer pressure, movies, unrealistic expectations. But the Universe is benevolent, and it wants what’s best for us – to break free and spread our wings. And it keeps nudging us towards that goal – even if we keep resisting.

We see all the signs but ignore them because we cannot fly because we have never used our wings. If this is all sounding too abstract, let’s take an example. 

I did software engineering, and the belief that I had was that engineering and creativity do not go together. I grew up telling myself that I am not creative. And in Indian society, you do not make money with creativity – you need a real job. Sparks were there even then – I started writing stories when I was less than ten years old. Indian newspaper published my article about riots with the title – ‘Ingenuity of a child.’ My college published my sarcastic-humour article about our then prime minister. I was happy that it happened but never gave it any serious thought. 

It wasn’t until I took the creativity and personal mastery course that I let a small part of myself believe that I am creative. And when I did ‘The artist way‘ by Julia Cameron – I opened my wings tentatively. And since then I wrote three books and also ran a Bollywood Dance company. And if I hadn’t expressed my creativity, it would lead to a climax like Blu/Jewel. And that climax would have been more painful. Universe nudges you gently at first, and if you do not listen, it gives you a right slap that leaves your ear ringing. It is up to you which one you pay attention to!

And since then, I have met people who surprisingly are interested in writing a book. Once you spread your wings – others see themselves doing it too. 

Are you ready to spread your wings and soar?

HumanKind-ness. It’s the ultimate truth

A young woman lost touch with her dad as a child when her parents divorced. As she grows up, she desires to meet him – she finds out that he is dead. She wishes she had made an effort to reach out to him sooner.

A woman’s in-laws shun her because she could not produce a male heir. And the problem is not with her but her husband but still she bears the grunt of insults.

Another young woman is in a toxic relationship with her boyfriend. They are going to therapy but cannot break the vicious cycle of emotions that keep them tied to each other and unhappy.

A young girl’s parents demand that the boy they found with her marry her even if he is not of the same caste. Boy’s parents have no choice but to agree.

All these stories, I am sure sound familiar to you right. You might have had some experiences yourself or know of friends who did. As a part of the human experience, we all suffer through the same emotions. Even if the situations are different, some situations may be as drastic as the death of close one or minor like a car breaking down, but the feelings we go through remain the same.

If I told you that the first three stories are about billionaires who buy a fifteen thousand dollar fish maw for soup and the last is of a poor farmer of a low caste. Does your perspective change?

Until we knew that they were super-rich or poor, we had a different kind of connection, and when we got to know their financial status, there was a small shift. And the shift happened in our head – our mindset. Why does race, finances, skin colour, country of origin have to play in part in how we relate with each other? We all have two eyes, two ears, one nose and a mouth.

Imagine you and your friends are playing a video game where you each have an avatar. One of your friend’s avatar hits the jackpot and can fly now. And your avatar becomes a mean underworld don. Will you start treating each other differently? No, right because that would be silly. Just because a bunch of pixels on the screen can fly does not mean you treat your friend differently.

But we do this in real life all the time? If somebody is rich, they get a different preference than somebody who is not. If somebody is a CEO, they are looked upon differently from a janitor? Who said that just because somebody is a CEO, they are better than a Janitor? As a society, we came up with this structure because our mind (ego) likes differentiation. If there was no comparison or need for control, then there is no need for ego – Ego will have to die, which it does not want.

Life is no different from the video game where we have avatars who go around doing all this stuff – underneath it all we are all the same.

Are you in touch with the essence underneath the avatar?

What is a genuine human connection?

In the ten-day Vipassana retreat, Goenka Ji tells us a story about Kisa Gotami. Kisa Gotami was the wife of a wealthy man of Savatthi. Her story is one of the more famous ones in Buddhism. After losing her only child, Kisa Gotami became desperate and asked if anyone could help her. Her sorrow was so great that many thought she had lost her mind. An older man told her to see the Buddha. The Buddha told her that he could bring the child back to life if she could find white mustard seeds from a family where no one had died. She desperately went from house to house, but to her disappointment, she could not find a home that had not suffered the death of a family member. Finally, the realization struck her that there is no house free from mortality. She returned to the Buddha, who comforted her and preached to her the truth. She was awakened and entered the first stage of enlightenment. Eventually, she became an Arahat

I had heard this story on previous retreats, but this time it struck a chord with me. What made me emotional was how painful it must have been for Kisa Gotami to realize that her son has died and there is nothing she can do about it. The gut-wrenching realization is almost like a physical ache in your heart.

When things do not go our way, and we want it to happen badly – it is painful to face reality and move on. In the human predicament, situations come and go, what is common is our desire/aversion towards specific outcomes and the joy/pain when that happens. When we recognize that the pain or pleasure is common across everybody – that is a sign of genuine compassion.  

In the story of Kisa Gotami – yes, it is excruciating to have your only son die – there is no denying that. It is even more painful to accept that and move on. You had so many dreams, future built on your son and when he died all that comes crashing – the reality as you imagined it is not going to happen and that is devastating to the human mind. For her to realize that her son has died and she cannot do anything about it – is what I connected with.

Everybody on the planet goes through these life situations. When we see a fellow human being overcome her challenges and face reality – there is a shared understanding of what it takes to accept it. And if we connect at that level, then we are connecting with the human predicament and the ability to transcend it – which is genuine compassion. As long as we identify with the human form, we will have to overcome such situations, and in some ways, that is what we need. Imagine reading a novel where everything goes well, and nothing happens – who would read such a book. The very reason things do not work forever in our lives because it is our destiny to transcend them.

Imagine if we truly understood what connected us as humans – will we still fight over our skin colour or what part of the land we were born? Can you feel the shared connection?

Leap Of Faith or Same Old?

I recently watched the movie – ‘The White Tiger’ on Netflix. It is one of those movies which has more than just a basic storyline. It depicts India, and it’s culture – things that probably most Indians don’t even think about anymore. But it goes a lot deeper than that. I have noticed that when shows or movies are made from the presence and not ego, they resonate more with the audience. The audience might know the reason, but it touches a chord somewhere deep down.

Eckhart Tolle tells us a story about an Indian and another countryman talking. Indian asked the other person – ‘What do you live by?’ He replies, ‘We live by guts.’ And then asks the same question to the Indian. The Indian says, ‘We live by grace.’ In India the illusion of control does not exist – cars can travel on the wrong side of the road, you are supposed to move even if it is red light, it might take you years to get your aadhar card, you have to make multiple trips to the bank to open an account. These things are considered standard in other countries. Nothing works the way it does in India, but it all turns out to be alright in the end.

Having lived in India and watching this movie reminded me that to be human is to be imperfect. And that implies that the life situation we are in is flawed and will not last. If you think you have everything under control now – wait for a few weeks or months or years. The human predicament is called predicament for a reason – it is supposed to be uncomfortable. That is why things we want do not happen, and something we do not want to keep happening – which as Buddha said is the definition of suffering.

All the billions of people on the entire planet – keep experiencing this and still keep going on as if the next thing would be any different. The life situation may change, but it will not last. It’s like a child building a sandcastle and expecting it to last forever. When the first one crumbles – he goes on to create another one expecting the same thing.

We do the same things with our lives – get good grades, get a good job, marry, have children, get another job, move cities, divorce, get laid off, get a promotion but nothing lasts.

Let’s be clear here – I am not saying that you do not do these things. We are born as humans to experience these life situations, but we should remember that these life situations are a portal to what does not change. That is why human life is so precious it is the bridge between the physical and the spiritual world. Only humans have this choice; no animal or tree can exercise this choice.

The irony of the situation – of the billion people only a few will bite and of those who bite only a few will get hooked – because it takes them towards a realm where you do not need sandcastles – you have it all.

Will you take the leap of faith or stick to building sandcastles?

Trickster Mind

For the last eighteen months or so, I had been on the path to get a new role at work in a different profession. I had gotten a couple of interviews but never made it into the second round. Subconsciously, I lived in a world where I want the role but was never going to get it. Third time around, I made it into the second round – and then actually landed the role.  

You would expect an overabundance of joy from me, correct? I did too. Instead, I had fear or more shock as the primary emotion. I do feel joy in spurts and bursts. I was disappointed because I did not get the role, now I am unhappy because I got the role – which is correct? Neither, the truth is I have got a new role – end of the story. A more profound truth is right now my hands are typing on the keyboard as my eyes watch the bunch of words appear on the laptop screen.

Our minds/egos love the vacillation – they need to identify with something it does not matter what. If you watch your thoughts, you will notice what a turncoat the mind is – Hopes to fear, Rags to riches. It contains the entire collection of the shows you can find on streaming these days. And we get caught up in that story and forget about the space in which the story takes place.

Eckhart Tolle tells a story in one of his talks – In Greece, there was a knotted rope which was very complicated. The story was that the person to undo the knot would be a great person. Many came and tried in vain to untie the knot. Then one young boy came and cut the knot with a sword – rumour has it, he grew up to be Alexander the Great.

Sometimes, the only way to get over the mind stories is through the sword of presence. What does that mean? It is hard to explain it in words, so here are some pointers:

  1. Remind yourself – ‘No thought matters absolutely.’ Be it about job, career, food, family, death, politics – it’s just a bunch of words. Be in the NOW.
  2. Treat your mind like a little child – pat its head and nod politely. You cannot be serious about all that little kids talk about, right? Mindfulness always works.
  3. Focus on breath or body sensations – because it brings you to reality. If it’s not happening now – you are living in the dream (what-if) world. Presence is the key.

Easier said than done. When you are in the grips of the story where your career is going down the drain, it is tough to step out of it and say – ‘It’s just a bunch of words.’ The way to get there is to notice every time it happens, even if it is hours after it happened. Because every time you become aware, you are de-personalizing the mind. The mind is not you anymore at least for that brief second. And then there will come the point when you will laugh at the stories that mind builds up and watch them as they arise and pass.

Trick Question: Which thought of your mind matters absolutely?

What Matters Most?

When you read a book, do you wonder about the blank spaces around the words? Do you wonder about the blank pages on which the letters appear?

When you enter a room, do you think about the space in the room? When you use the furniture, do you think about the space in which it exists?

When you watch a film, are you aware of the screen on which it is playing? When you see the actors in the movie, do you realize that they are people?

Let’s bring it all home with a story. One of my friends got laid off from a toxic job and not the best fit for her. She was miserable in that role working long hours in a thankless role. When she told the news to her parents and in-laws, their reaction was, ‘Wow, that is amazing!’ and ‘Good riddance – such great news!’. My friend is a little upset about it even though she knows its the best direction for her.

Her parents and in-laws are happy because they care about my friend, not her life situation. They care about what matters most – the person behind the job, the blank space behind the words, the person playing the role.

Think about how much of our life we spend thinking about our life situation and not life itself. There is nothing wrong in thinking about a life situation, but we have to keep life in perspective. As a human society, we have become so life-situation centric that the real meaning of life is non-existent.

Why is the space in which it all exists so essential? Because it is the only constant – life situations will come and go. The little or big Me (ego) will grow bigger and then deflate itself. The entity we call ‘I’ will play many parts or actors in various plays. If we remember the space/entity, we will not identify ourselves with the actor or the life situation. That gives us breathing space to choose – to be aware that its all a play and we are all actors. It is not the essence of who we are.

If you knew that the life situation playing currently in your head where EGO is the main actor – ‘I am so busy’, ‘I will never get the promotion’, ‘COVID has ruined our lives’, is just that – plays, then will you be unhappy? We will play the role with gusto, knowing that it’s not who we are.

How do we keep in touch with space, person, and not identify with roles or thoughts? An easy way is to be in your body – if you are walking your dog, but your mind is thinking about work, what is real and what is fantasy? It is ok to think about the future or past as long as it is practical. Another way is to keep reminding yourself – ‘Is this a problem that is happening right now?’

Will you be aware of the blank pages or space next time? What about now?

Lost In Russian Dolls?

Have you ever seen a new-born baby? For the first six months or so they have no idea of who they are, they are not aware of their legs and arms. One of my nieces used to pull her hair as a baby and start crying – unable to tear her hand and stop the pain.

Babies live in the NOW – there is no concept of past/future or self/I. They do have minimal basic desires and wants like milk/sleep/food. They have no great desires or plans – a baby does not think when I drink milk twenty-four times a day I will become a millionaire or other ridiculous cravings/aversions that we tend to get as we grow up. For the baby, there is nothing except the present moment.

As we grow up, we get to know the mind-based concept of time. And with time comes the need to get somewhere, the desire to meet our plans or the aversion towards something happening. And we leave the present moment and start to live in the future and past. The conditioning becomes stronger.

Another thing that happens as we grow up is our sense of ME. We start creating a picture of who we are, what people should think about of me, what society should think of me? And we go about making that image to our liking. A baby does not think – my dad should think of me as pretty or my brother should look up to me. When we grow up this self-image becomes so ingrained that we are not even aware of it.

The society, media and other factors are all egging us to live in the future/past or create an ‘Ideal self-image’. The TV ad that tells you that if you use their aftershave lotion, you will find love, the news piece about a spiritual coach, the interview with an actor/actress with a so-called perfect body.

Nowhere people tell you that the practically impossible to live in the future or the past. My body is right now sitting on a couch, typing these words in the keypad. I can’t skip to the next weekend – but my mind starts thinking about the following weekend, and I have lost touch with reality. I can think about it all I want – the weekend will get here when it is NOW.

We/our minds keep jumping away from the present moment all the time – into past or future or dreamland. There is nothing wrong with planning. We do not stop at planning; we derive a sense of self from something happening or not happening in the future, which becomes futile.

Like the nested Russian dolls, we have lost sense of who we are or where we are. There is so much depth to the present moment that we never explore because we are so busy looking at the outer covers – its paints, designs. A big part of understanding the depth is the acknowledgement of the inevitable is-ness of the present moment.

Where are you right now?

Plain Old Living

I just watched the latest Pixar animation movie – ‘Soul’. It is a must-see even though not at the same level as their other movie – ‘Inside Out’. Before we get into the actual blog a word about the creation process for these movies. Pixar movies generally speaking come from a very different place. If you ever watch a Pixar movie and read some of the spiritual books like, ‘Untethered Soul’ or ‘The power of now’ – you will see some overlap. For a movie to reach that depth level, the creation has to flow through you and not forced. The creation process happens through the presence and not ego, which is a feat in itself. Hats off to that creation!

In the movie, there is a dialogue where a little kid is asking about his/her purpose. The kid says, ‘Maybe walking is my purpose; I am very good at walking or even watching the sky.’ And the other person replies, ‘Well, that cannot be your purpose, it’s just plain old living.’

We have reduced the majority of our life into a Plain Old Boring Job. What do most humans do in their daily lives – sleep, eat, walk, talk, watch – right? And even if you have a purpose – most of that also includes – walking, talking.

Now – we have two options. First – not do everyday things like walking, talking, eating etc. – but then how will you live your life? Second – Remove these activities from the boring list – but these are boring!

There is a Zen saying – ‘Chop Wood and Carry Water’. It essentially means that it does not matter if you have chopped wood and carried water for the last twenty-five years. It is new every time you do it because it is NOW. Our mind/ego finds it boring – I have carried water for so long, it is hard work. Why do I have to carry water? It is so dull. Do I have to carry it forever? Why cannot somebody else bring water?

Our minds live in the past and present – which is practically impossible. We hardly live IN the PRESENT moment, which is the only place you can exist. If we could start living in the now without living in the mind-created world, our lives would become so much more straightforward. And then chopping wood and carrying water will be more enjoyable.

Another example is walking – we have made walking a means to an end. You want to get somewhere, a meeting, home so that you can do something else. How many times have we walked without really walking but running through the todo list in our mind? All it does is – it uses up energy from the actual doing of the todo list, so when the time comes to do the tasks you are exhausted.

You have thought about carrying water and chopping wood so much that when it comes to doing it – you are exhausted! Are you carrying water and chopping wood or thinking about it?