Category Archives: Creativity

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?

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?

View from the Terrace

Humankind has made tremendous progress in the last century than ever before. In our lifetimes, we have seen the journey of the internet from its birth to becoming the digital oxygen. Connecting across borders is easier than ever – we have come a long way from letters/steamer ships to instant messaging and Skype. With Google information is literally at our fingertips. Google has become a verb now.

With all these advances then why are we losing the sense of connection? Why are the suicide rates increasing? Why is depression becoming common?

Let me take you on my trip back to India. India has a population of 1.35 billion with the square footage of 1,269,219 sq miles which means that every person gets roughly 0.00094016222 square miles. Don’t get hung up on numbers – India is just crowded, you cannot step anywhere without running into people. I used to join my parents for a walk on the terrace, and I would look around. I could see kids playing skipping rope on a building terrace couple of blocks away. I could see two young men sitting on the water tank smoking cigarettes (probably hiding from their parents). I could see a woman picking off the clothes of the clothesline. And if I looked down the streets were teeming with life. I could empathize with the young lady coming back from work. I could see the old lady struggling to carry a heavy bag. I could see kids cycling off to someplace very urgently.

Even if you don’t go on the terrace, it is impossible to miss the sounds of life around you in your house because of the proximity of the homes. You can hear the kids upstairs playing marbles or something similar on the floor. You can listen to your neighbor’s tv. You could listen to the milkman and vegetable man in the morning. It is challenging to forget that you are a human and live among other humans. The maid comes in every day. The watchman brings you the newspaper every day.

When I came back to Columbus, there are a few people around on the street. You might see a few people running or walking their dogs. The houses are so apart that you could forget that you have neighbors once you get inside the house. We all sit in our cars – go to work and come back. Most families are nuclear these days, so the interaction is limited to family members these days when we get a break from the digital world. The sense of connection is not very easy – you have to seek it out.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting that overpopulation is the only way to feel connected. I am stressing on the importance of human connection. We are social animals who crave some connection, warmth. And there are many ways to connect – with nature, with candles, with people, with self. Having contact is important. If you do not get a daily dose of connection, then put yourself in situations where you cannot avoid feeling the oneness with the rest of the humankind. And of course, once you realize the unity with the self and others, then the need for connection goes away as you are always in a state of oneness.

How will you connect today?

I Wonder

As we were driving down the roads in India, my husband commented that he sometimes wonders what all these people on the road are doing or not doing? 

There are a lot of people in India who sit and wait or wonder or do something so complex that it is beyond a simple mind like mine which does not understand the concept of not doing anything or just plain simple wondering.

If you are going through the streets of villages you will see people sitting around a small tea shack and not doing anything. You will see people sleeping under trees. You will see people sitting outside their houses (Old houses had this inbuilt – a bench or a small verandah where you could sit and socialize).

If you are in the busy streets of a city, you will still see people sitting outside a tea shop on motorbikes. You will see them sit on piers or water fronts. You will see them sitting at bus stops, train stations. You will see them sitting in various shops, waiting or wondering.

If you didn’t know, India is the most populated country in the world with a whopping 1.3 billion and more coming by the second. And to add to the people let’s not forget all the cows and the dogs that roam as if they have equal rights to the road as any other Indian Citizen.

With so many people, one wonders how people have so much time. It is amazing that with so many people things still get done – with no order or organization. That is the beauty. You can impose control/order and laws only to a certain limit in a democracy. After that life takes over – it has its own order which works with the chaos – infact chaos is needed.

With so many people and limited infrastructure, we as humans are forced to resign to the fact that we are after all puppets in this whole drama called life. We want to move faster, but the traffic is not budging. We want to get an appointment as soon as we visit the doctor’s office, but there are like a dozen people in front of us. We want to zoom right through the traffic, but there are potholes, cows and dogs to avoid. In the face of such situations, the best thing to do is to accept it and use that time to wonder. I  believe that’s why there is so much just sitting and staring that happens. People have learnt that sometimes the best thing to do is to ‘just’ live. 

I had always rushed through life, even when I lived in India before. And even now I cannot stop running or doing. I admit that I used to look down on ‘not doing’ state as something of a lowly task. It’s only now that I am beginning to see the value and appreciate the state of wonder that many Indians tend to have automatically.

Do not get me wrong, this comes with its frustrations and issues but given the population and given the infrastructure, the happy medium is to keep calm and carry on and enjoy life for what it is – a super entertaining drama!

Acceptance

At our village market a cow got free and was trying to eat the vegetables off the stalls – the owners and the customers shooed the cow away, and then life went back to normal.

During the cyclone in Tamilnadu, a few of the trees just fell.

During winter the trees shed their leaves, and during spring the leaves grow again.

What do the three scenarios above have in common? Going with the flow. At the market, life went on as usual despite the cow sauntering in. Nobody gave it much thought – keep calm and carry on. Nature is the best example of going with the flow. Everything in nature goes with the flow as I have never seen a tree try to hold onto the leaves in winter because doing so would be foolishness and impossible. Imagine if a tree decided it was not going to grow any leaves in spring!

I am sure you are thinking what a ridiculous idea, right? Now, what if I told you that we not only entertain but even try to execute such ideas. For example, we do not get the partner of our choice, but we do try to do our best to make it happen. We might not get a job we like, but we strive against the verdict with all might and vain.

At some level, we know that life is flowing all around us and we are just little drops in that flow enjoying the ride. We get so busy in our human experience that we start to believe that we are like the banks of the ocean and we can contain and direct the water inside it. That is the human predicament – knowing that we are a drop in the ocean, but the drop includes everything that the ocean does.

We also like things the way they were and are resistant to change. The drops in the ocean change so rapidly that it is hard to distinguish it from the ocean. We, humans, try our best to cling to the shape and size which to put simply is a futile effort. But we still try. This is a human predicament.

We have to accept that we are in a human predicament. What we have is a choice – on how we view this human predicament – as a boon or a curse.

It will be a curse if we view the human predicament as a constraint. If we see it as a problem that shackles us from living our life because things do not happen as we want them to – the big ocean we are a part of refused to listen to the whims and fancies of this miniscule ocean drop – then it will be a problem.

It will be a boon if we see this as the freedom to experience life as a drop knowing that we are a part of the ocean then this is amazing. It’s like living life as an actor and experiencing the different scripts as we can play the characters to the fullest knowing that we are not the characters. This gives us the opportunity to live life fully.

What will your choice be?

What the kale!?! #VeganLife

This year I become a Vegan. It has honestly been a journey. I gave up chicken because I stopped enjoying it, next year I gave up fish, last year I gave up milk and this year eggs. Before I go any further let me say that I believe in the Chinese proverb -“80% is perfect for me”. You will catch me eating the occasional cheese or drinking chai with regular milk, but it is not the norm.

A few people ask me why I became vegan. I have no clear answer except it was time – a part of it was for weight control, but I believe that most of it is because of the meditation practice (Vipassana) and my tuning with my body needs. I practice Vipassana and know that it is my path in my life. And as a part of Vipassana, you are encouraged to maintain the five precepts in your daily life if you are a serious meditator.

And one of the precepts is to refrain from killing any living beings – and that includes refraining from acts that encourage killing living beings as well. And I believe that if you take these precepts, they have to have an impact and maybe that is why I am on this journey or simply put I am more in tune with my body needs now than before as a part of my spiritual practice.

Now, why would my body needs shift towards Vegan? I follow what my body needed, but I recently saw a video by Sadhguru (A guru from Isha Yoga Center – one of the few yogis who meets people where they are) on eating meat. He explained that herbivore animals have molars for chewing, grinding and they also have a long alimentary canal to aid in digestion whereas carnivores have canines for tearing the meet and a short alimentary canal as they do not digest food for long. Now, which of these systems do you think we humans have? We have molars and a long alimentary canal – and the climate in our body is tropical – so can you imagine what happens to meat left outside (or inside our body) for long periods of time? [Especially when it takes meat 24-28 hours to process through our bodies]

He also has another reason for those of us who are spiritually inclined- that if we eat other beings who have emotional feelings, then it is a) like killing them b) we are just collecting their imprints which are not suitable for preparing our body for spiritual practice.

And he also says that if you live in areas with harsh climates like deserts where you have to eat meat – in that case eat meat which has the lowest emotional content like fish. This makes sense because fish was the last animal meat I gave up.

These are facts or beliefs depending on what you searched for in Google, but your body does not lie. Unfortunately, most of us have lost the ability to listen to our body.

What’s next for me? Eating Less and Eating Simple – Mindfully. I am on a journey and grateful to be on it. Will you be my fellow traveler?

Building a Bridge

Have you ever been a situation where
1. Let’s say you have had a bad experience with somebody – for example, you had to ask for directions and that somebody shouted at you for asking the directions. So, now you are afraid of asking directions. You use your previous interaction to frame your current interactions.
2. You have felt scared inside, but you put a brave face and went on about it. Can you think of one situation in your life when you were not sure of how things are done, but you went about it like you have done it a dozen times? For me, it was ordering my first subway sandwich – coming straight from India; it was an ordeal.
3. You have looked at somebody and assessed where they fit in the interaction models that pre-exist in your mind. For example, this person is reading a book – People who read books are friendly people so I can trust them.

I am sure most of you can say yes to all the three situations before. Now, what if I told you that the youth experiencing homelessness could also say yes to the above situations. Yes, our circumstances might be vastly different but we are experiencing the same feelings, emotions and we come from the same space.

For those of you who don’t know – Adam and I (along with a few other great people) have embarked on a journey to establish a social enterprise (Wild Tiger Tees) which employs youth experiencing homelessness to screen print t-shirt. Our ultimate goal is to get them out of homelessness entirely. We are taking one step at a time – build a relationship and a sustainable business model first – coach and mentor the youth for long-term success. We do not know if we will be successful or not but its a start of something for sure. Like anything new – this has been the foremost thought in my mind chatter in the recent days.

The first thing that struck me was that I was as afraid of approaching these youth as they were of me. And that led me to see other things that we have in common. Surprise! Surprise! We have a lot more in common than I ever imagined – at the end of the day we are all going through the same human predicament, and suffering is the one common thread we have.

What Wild Tiger Tees is trying to do is to fill in a gap that exists in our society – for reasons beyond our control we have youth experiencing homelessness in our society. And there is no structure in place currently that encourages, enables and empowers these youth to integrate back into the society – in some ways, it is like two different worlds, and there is no bridge across them. Before I got involved in this enterprise, I was not even aware of this other world except in passing.

In our society we have a set structure of how life works – you graduate, you have campus placements – interviews, and then you get a job. But there is nothing of this sort that exists for the youth we are working with – they are an untapped workforce that we have not figured out how to integrate into our current workforce.

What we are trying to do is to build the bridge across our two worlds which have more similarities than differences.