Priorities

I recently watched an amazon prime series, ‘Made in Heaven.’ It is about a couple of wedding planners whose clients are the elite of elitist in Delhi, India. The show was ok overall, one-time watch. But, there was a thread in that show that got me worked up a bit – and not a lot of things do that to me now – thankfully.

One of the wedding planners is gay, and in the show, gay rights had not been legalized in India. Article 377 which in summary stated that any LGBTQ was illegal and a criminal act was still in effect. (On 6th, September 2018 – Indian constitution deemed article 377 invalid and accepted homosexuality as natural.) I have a lot of friends in the LGBTQ community and some very dear friends too, but I understood a lot more when I watched the show. In the show, the gay partner is reported to the police by his landlord and then jailed where the police officer abuses him.

This is the part where I struggled (and still struggle) to wrap my head around the whole concept. Can you imagine being punished for who you are? Being put in jail because you are who you are. Imagine having to live a double life 24 X 7. This is beyond my understanding.

I am a project manager by trade and maybe even by nature. If I were project managing earth then trying to round up the LGBTQ community into jail would never make it to any priority list, on the contrary, what this world needs right now is Love – in any shape or form, regardless of gender. There are so many other vital issues on earth that need to be tackled than spending precious resources trying to hunt down people who at the end of the day just want to have a normal life.

Let’s consider the following two fictional scenarios – we have a tree that is giving very sweet and a nutritional fruit in abundance. The unique thing about this tree is that it does not require a seed to grow, all it needs is a branch of an existing tree and once you plant it – it grows naturally.

And then we have another kind of a tree – which is not satisfied by its fruits, and it actively infects other trees to destroy them from having fruits by poisoning it. This tree is hungry for power and preys on the weaker sex for selfish reasons. But it grows in the typical fashion from a seed.

Which one would you focus on getting under control? Something that nature has deemed right or something that is twisted in its inner core and lives with harmful intentions.

In ancient history, homosexuality is celebrated and depicted on the walls of many ancient temples in India. Even transgenders figure in old Indian epic stories like Mahabharata. Makes me wonder what happened to those pure and loving thoughts? I asked my professor once – ‘Are there truly evil people? And his response was, ‘There is nothing evil – there is only ignorance.’

How can you contribute to getting rid of ignorance?

Not Enough

At work, we go through a lot of assessments – leadership, personality, etc. You will find a few statements common across these assessments and today I want to talk about one of such statements – ‘I have high expectations of myself and work hard but should be careful about expecting the same from others.’ I am paraphrasing, but you get the picture.

As long as I was an individual contributor, this was never a problem. And believe me I work hard, and I play hard. The picture was not so rosy once I became a people leader. And it forced me to examine why I had high expectations of myself and why others think I am a perfectionist when I know I am not.

Adam and I talked about this, talked about it some more, until at some point I told Adam, ‘In India if you get 99.6% you are considered a loser. That one question you got wrong can cost you a free seat in one of the top engineering colleges.’

Let me put things in perspective. When I was growing up in India – the system was that your %ages in Physics, Chemistry, and Maths would be totaled and then ranked with all the students who applied to that university. And then the cut-off would be the number of seats the university had. So let’s say if a university had 100 seats then the top 100 in the ranked list of %ages get a seat. Doesn’t sound so bad, right!

Imagine if thousands of students applied for 50 seats – yes, that’s the odds we are talking about in India especially if you do not want to pay tons of money for an engineering seat at a college. If you want a free seat (regular tuition) in one of the top engineering colleges, anything less than 99.6% was of no value. I got 100/100 in science in 10th grade – which was my saving grace.

I grew up in an unforgiving environment – and given the population of India there are various other incidents where you have to do your best – sometimes even that is not enough, you have to do better than the rest.

If you think, this is a horrible way of growing up then let me introduce you to a two-year-old in Hong Kong. We were at my friend’s wedding in Hong Kong, and one of his friends was telling us that his two years old cute daughter, will give an interview and is building a resume. She was taking piano lessons. She will be competing with thousands of applicants for a dozen seats at an esteemed nursery at an age where she is still learning potty training. Imagine growing up in Hong Kong. [Read more at this link ]

Growing up in such an environment shaped me to never settle for less – there is always more that I can do. Expectations at the end of the day are relative. I am grateful for the experiences I had for making me who I am today. Would I be who I am today if I had not had the experiences I had – Who knows?

How did your experiences shape you?

Hard Vs.Tough

I gave a talk on Leadership yesterday at an undergraduate class, my first ever talk as a leader officially. The students asked a lot of questions at the end of the, and on my way back I was thinking about the talk and life in general. That’s when I realized the difference between Hard and Tough.

Dictionary meaning of Hard is: with a great deal of effort.
Dictionary meaning of Tough is: strong enough to withstand adverse conditions or rough or careless handling.

I think Hard is more in the intellectual space and Tough in the heart space. For example, one might find equations hard to understand but if you work hard enough or a good tutor explains them to you-you will understand it. Whereas Tough to me is, you might know that ‘Be Kind to everyone’ but it is tough to do that in your life.

If something is hard to do, then you can do it by working hard – it’s a matter of practice and perseverance. Tough things in life are ‘harder’ to master even if they are not hard to understand.

I want to focus on the ‘Tough’ things because they are overlooked most of the time in favor of hard work. Everybody believes that you work hard, network hard you will get a promotion. Very few people will tell you that – if you authentically work on yourself – promotion will come to you. Why? Because it is easy to work hard but tough to work on oneself.

Why is it tough to work on oneself? Let’s take the most straightforward example out there – eating healthy. All of us are well aware and on a journey to eat healthy right? It is not hard to understand that we should eat healthy but tough to do it. Why is it tough to do it? Because we give in to the short term pleasure than long term gain. We have been trained to sprint and not for marathons. Or, is it because we do not have will power. Let’s call this our ToughHandler Muscle. We never work on strengthening this muscle – we work on building our physical body, family, bank balance but the essential thing ToughHandler – we forget. For some people, the concept of ToughHandler does not even exist. They are so engrossed in getting to the destination that they have forgotten to take care of the car that is going to get them there.

How to work on this ToughHandler Muscle then? First and foremost, is Awareness. If you are not aware of something how can you do anything about it? Well, now you know about it. Next practice it – how, whatever way calls out to you – Meditation, stay away from sugar for a day, for a week, for a month. The possibility of you failing to do this is high because you have started the journey and ToughHandler muscle is weak but with continuous practice, it will be strengthened and will help you prepare the marathon that life is.

How will you strengthen your ToughHandler muscle today?

Sweet And Sour

When I lived in London, I was introduced to a multitude of dishes and most of them I was open to trying and loved for the most part. The one sort of meal that I could not digest was the one that had both sweet and spicy flavors. I could not understand why you would put honey on chili chicken or the sweet and spicy sauces or addition of pineapple in spiciest thai dishes.

Recently, I have started to understand that the flavors enhance each other – still, not a big fan but at least gained an appreciation for two competing flavors to enhance the other one.

Green Mangoes are sweet and sour at the same time, and they are a big hit in India. Sweet and sour are also two completely different flavors, but they do add a zing – just like many of the memories or experiences in our lives.

First Love, Leaving Home, Long Distance Relationship, Ending Of An Experience or a holiday. The list is never-ending. That’s why some memories are called bittersweet. And it is the bittersweetness of the memories that make them unique because we learn from them – more from just either bitter or sweet because life is not black or white, it comes with shades of grey.

It took me forever to come to terms with the fact that my first love was never meant to be – especially given the Type A in me. It was probably my first life lesson which I took forever to learn. It was the bane of my existence ages ago, but now I recall the aftertaste fondly and recall the memories both bitter and sweet and enjoy the taste. I guess my taste in life experiences evolved with my taste in food.

Any experience in life is sprinkled with both black and white memories like two sides of a coin. Due to conditioning, we tend to focus on either the black or the white, but in reality, it is both black and white that makes our life. Just like life – people have shades of grey. That is what makes life more interesting. Imagine if we were all robots where would the joy in life be.

As humans, we have the choice to experience life in its full glory. Be open and aware of every thought that comes by but act on the one that feels alive in us. We do not have to judge ourselves by the thought that comes to our mind but by our actions. We are not defined by the thoughts we have but the actions we do and most importantly our intention. Our intention might be pure but the initial thoughts might not be – and this bittersweet combination is what makes life interesting for us. All you can do is marvel at the fact that we can have conflicting items and have the choice to pick between the two. It might be easier if it was all black or all white, but then it would not help us grow or discover who we are. The question, the choice is what makes us human.

How will you exercise your choice to be human, today?

Every Moment – Change

In the ten-day Vipassana course, Goenka Ji tells us lots of stories. My mind wandered over to the following story today.
Goenka Ji asks that the light bulbs we have in our houses – they appear to remain the same for a long time, if they do not change then why do we pay electricity bills?
Similarly, the candle flame appears to remain the same, but after a few minutes or hours it grows smaller in size, right?

Even though the candle flame and the light bulb appear to remain the same – they are changing every second. Every second the old flame dies, and the new one takes its place. But it happens so fast that our naked eye cannot see it – hence the illusion that the flame/light bulb remains the same.

Similarly, we change every moment too – that is why we grow old. The change that happens is not only at the physical level but also at a mental level. We are adapting every minute and at some point, the change accumulates, and it manifests itself. Whether, we like it or not, whether we believe it or not change is the only constant in our inner selves.

If change is the only constant then why do people find change so hard not only in ourselves but also in others? When I lived in London, I had a thriving social life, and that meant talking to a lot of people mostly about the same topics. I told my ‘story’ around the theme so much that the story became a reality and then a belief because I invested my emotional energy talking about it. For example, I was a devoted Bikram Yoga practitioner for two years, and that meant for two years the story was that I go to Bikram yoga every day – it was the staple fodder of all my conversations for those two years. And one day I woke up and decided that I have had enough – it was more work to relay the change in my story to others after that – because in thier and my mind I was going to do Bikram Yoga every day forever. And who knows how many of those two years was because of the story I was telling myself and others – if I did not have the story then maybe I might have stopped sooner.

Bikram Yoga is just one example, but this permeated in every aspect of my life. I felt bound by the stories I was telling others because it was harder to change them even if I had moved on from that old story. When I moved to Columbus, it was freeing because I could be who I wanted. And it gave me the space to explore, try and fail and adopt new realities.

I am not advocating that having social circle is a problem, all I am pointing out is that change is the constant and sometimes the stories we tell ourselves and others prevent us from making a change because the story continues to gain our emotional energy and becomes a prison from which we find hard to break.

What story will you break free from, today?

Despite Humans

I was discussing with my parents on our weekly skype about a talk from Sadhguru about love and relationships. He talks about relationships in this quick 10-minute video. And what he said made me think. He says that these bonds do not have to be body-based or blood bound.

For example, Adam and I have a three-year-old Shiba Inu pup – Aki. And we love him to bits. Adam and I are also strangers in that sense, but we do like each other very much. For my parents, I am their blood – I came out of my mother’s womb but for me, they are not from my body, and they are the ones who defined love for me. And given the amount of travel I have done in my life I have stronger relationships with strangers than my cousins. And to date, some of my friends are more dear to me than my own family.

This whole concept that only if it is from your physicality can you love someone starts to sound a little far-fetched. Sadhguru expresses his view on adoption vs. fertility treatments. And he makes a clear point when he says that reproduction was a means of ensuring that the human race survives and now humankind is the only race that is not in the danger of extinction. On the other hand, there are so many species on earth that need protection from human poaching.

What we humans have forgotten is that we are a part of this big ecosystem called earth where we are not the center of the attention but just something on the side. Rest of the planet, trees, birds, sun or even earth do not care whether we exist or not – they carry on their life purpose in most cases despite us. Trees do not distinguish between humans when they give shade or provide fruits – they live their life purpose.

We, humans, have forgotten what our purpose is, do we even know why we exist. I am not asking this as a profound spiritual quest but as a simple ask – why do you lead the life you do? The very fact that this question is considered a deep and spiritual shows how much we have gone away from our roots. Human beings are different from other creatures in the sense that they have consciousness – they can make a choice. Trees have no choice in how they live their life but we do. And sadly, we do not even think about the choice which is our gift in this world. Instead, we live in a world of fog where the light of consciousness does not even penetrate – we might glimpse it a little by chance but never bask in its full glory.

We go about our lives living like a robot. We eat junk food without even getting in touch with how it makes us feel. For most of us, we are so desensitized that we are immune to the connection between us and what we eat, the world around us.

How will you connect your inner self to the outer world?

Union Of Mind And Body

In India when I was growing up, corporal punishment was allowed (it is illegal now). I still remember the punishments where one had to stand up with both hands up – straight and other was to bend down and put your hands underneath your knees and touch your ears (Called as the Murga Position).

If you have never been subject to these punishments then you are lucky – these positions start as easy, but after a few minutes the pain is excruciating. Recently, I have been reading a lot about the significance of rituals/things that we Indians do, and I came across an article that described that the two punishments as the easiest way to get the blood going to your brain which is supposed to calm the person down. It makes absolute sense on why the punishments were devised in such a way.

Similarly, there is a reason why women wear bangles and men wear Kadas. In earlier days when joint families were common – all the women folk would stay behind in homes and men would go off to farm. And when a large number of people dwell together in a small space tension arises – the bangles were supposed to rub against your wrists so that the blood flow is active and it activates the energy nodes which keeps you calm, alert and aware. It was a natural way to ensure that the relationships in the house were kept cordial and joyful.

How is all this related to the Union of Mind and Body? If you do yoga then you know what I am talking about – Yoga is necessarily the union of body and mind. And the instance above give you a clear example of the connection between the physical and the mental.

If you do Surya Namaskar – it is supposed to help weak constiution and increase will power. The poses in the sequence activate specific nodes or energy centers which strengthen those qualities.

If you have a squeaky wheel you put in oil to make it move faster, similarly our body is a mechanism and if you know how to tweak it will run smoothly. All the rituals in India were targeted towards this, but with time we have lost them, or they have turned into superstitions which have lost their original purpose.

We are all human beings having a spiritual experience – in some ways this human body is a prison, a prison of our own making. And our deepest desire to break out the human predicament by realizing the union with one. By doing yoga or other activities that connect the mind and body your stay in this prison becomes easier and your body becomes ready to break out the prison.

Sadly, for a lot of us, we do not even realize that we are in prison. And for those of us who do realize it is a prison, we are happy if we get better food, a better cell but the ultimate freedom is when there is no prison. Only I can break myself out of this prison – I cannot do it for you, you have to do it for yourself – walk the path yourself.

What step will you take on this path?

Constant Gentle Pressure

Check out this article first at this link

The idea that it is life’s job to keep moving the salt shaker off the center of the table and my job to keep putting it back at the center – is so to the point.

I knew about this article in 2010 when Prof.Rao from CPM institute narrated this to us in London Business School. Recently, I remembered this article while preparing for the Wild Tiger Tees (WTT) team meeting. We have been up and running since August last year (I know it has not been that long), and I have tried to implement a lot of things (maybe a bit prematurely), and most of them have failed. Yes, I admit it. For a project manager and a driver like me, I had a tough time grappling with the inability to get things done. A few tries later (Quite a few tries) then I came to few realizations

  • We are doing this on a volunteer basis and mission is to support the youth.
  • There is entirely no point in beating myself over things in WTT because there is nothing at stake – we are making a difference.
  • Just because things do not work does not mean you stop trying.

The third point is why my mind dug up this article from the archives and brought it to the forefront of my mind chatter. Once I made peace with the situation, it became a lot easier. Now, I was open to trying different ways to make it work – it was like a game or a puzzle. I was trying to pick and see which piece would fit the best and then move on the next bit so that we can see the entire picture.

Lots of lessons in this one – Failure was a must for me to move on to the next step. The next step was the discovering that there is no need to treat every situation like a nail just because I have a hammer. Once I let go of the attachment to the outcomes I automatically starting exploring different ideas – creativity arose. And from there pure joy and well-being.

Life is pretty much the same way. Sometimes you have to keep chugging along even if the results are not there, but you know that it is the right track. The way our society shapes us we never fail enough. It is just not a done thing – however many books you may read, however many studies are out there which tell us that it is ok to fail. I take failure personally. Maybe it is time to rejoice the failures because then we can be unfettered in our next moves. Sometimes it might be best to fail and get the pressure out of the way so that you are free to experiment.

Yoda was right when he said – do or do not; there is no trying. If something fails then do something else – any beating yourself up, wasting time on what-ifs is not worth it.

What will you keep doing now?

Do You Own It?

Scenario 1: Do you brush your teeth every day? Do you floss every day? Do you take care of your teeth religiously, making sure that they are healthy?
Scenario 2: Do you skip brushing your upper teeth because you can do it the next day? Who cares whether you brush your teeth or not?

The chances are that you fall in scenario 1 – you take care of your teeth. You do not just wake up and not brush because who cares right? You do, you care about your teeth, your health. You are important to you.

Now, let’s get to work. Have you ever done something half-heartedly because you did not care about it? Have you not done a spell check because you didn’t think it mattered or rather you did not want to do it?
I am sure all of us know somebody at work who always goes the extra mile – goes above and beyond what is needed. And we all know that one person who wants to do the bare minimum – a sloppy job too!

What distinguishes the two people? They both come to work, get paid the same amount then why are they so different. Look at the image below and tell me what comes to mind?

They were not doing it for themselves. They did not make the work their own. They lacked ownership. One might argue that it is work – and work is different from the rest of your life? Is it? I ask you – well, then a big chunk of your life is not your life anymore because your work is ‘different’ from your life.

We use this as an excuse for not showing up our best selves every moment of the day. We live in the moment, and we forget that we are all connected – everything that we do has an impact. Us making a choice, not making a decision has an effect on you, your life, your family, your community and your world. Your choice to not show up at work a 100% impacts the earth in some way or other. If we really could experience the universe as our own body then would we deface it by cutting down trees, by using plastic. No, we would feel the pain and stop. But now, we can ignore it because we say it does not impact me.

Some people might say, but I genuinely do not feel the connection, and that is ok but are you 100% true to what you feel connected to? What do you feel connected to? And how do you show up there? Change starts from within, and this is no different – first let’s be aware of how we are fully present for something in our lives and then spread it to other areas of our life. We might have all the time in the world, but we live in a moment and then moment to moment. And how you show up at the moment defines your life on this planet earth.

How are you showing up this moment?

All The Time In The World

‘I want to meditate and exercise but have no time to do it.’
‘I have so much to do and no time to do them.’
‘If only there were more hours in the day.

Do the above statements resonate with you? Now, have you heard of the quote that time is an illusion? See what Tolle has to say about it.

If what Tolle says is true then how come we are always so crunched up for time? It took me a month of not doing anything to get started on the theory that Time Is Indeed An Illusion. Let me share some of the tidbits with you.

Let’s start with the question – Can you live in the past? Can you live in the future? The obvious answer is no. We can only live in the now – the present moment – what does that mean?

Let’s say you are having a crazy day and you are finishing up writing an email to your boss. And you have to do the meeting minutes from the previous meeting and finish up the financials sheet for your team – and get to the home early so that you can pick up your puppy. The predominant mind chatter at this point – how are you going to get all these things done? But, the only thing you can do right now write that email – other things are just distractions. The quote from Deepak Chopra below sums it up well. It might sound a little paradoxical.

What he is trying to say that most of the time we are not short of time – we are just thinking about being short of time which in turns results in us in losing time – which indicates that we are losing time only in our head and minds and hence it is an illusion.

Time is a man made a construct, we made clocks and calculated the distance from earth/sun and decided that this is how our time management works. Now, to function in this society time is needed but we forget that we invented time. Do not get me wrong; I am not saying that we never plan and show up whenever we want because we have all the time in the world. What I am saying is that we can stop worrying about things in the past or the future and focus on the now – as that is the only place we can live.

And if we manage to live in the moment without thinking about the past and the future and continue that from moment to moment – we will have infinite time. At this moment when I am writing – I am aware of all the zillion things that I have to do before I go to bed, but at this moment I am writing, and I have all the time at this moment to write. And if I entirely live in this moment, then the anxiety of the other things undone does not exist.

Are you in the moment, Now?