Go With The Flow

Imagine if you could hear a tree talk like us humans. What do you think the tree would say?
Option 1: ‘Oh! My God. It started snowing again. How can it snow again when it just snowed yesterday? And the tree next to me – why cannot it just stick to its own space always leaning into my space. And on top of this, I am losing my leaves also…’

Option 2: ‘It is snowing. Leaves are falling. The tree next to me is leaning into me…’

Regardless of which option you chose, the trees are living option 2. They go with the flow – they bend when the wind comes, they stand straight when it is sunny. Be it floods, hurricanes they take everything in their stride because they know that trees are a part of an ecosystem and they are only playing their role. Trees mold themselves to what is happening as opposed to fighting against it. They surrender and accept what is.

Let’s look at us – the great human species. We cannot even accept that there is traffic on the road. It is happening, and for most of us it happens every day, but we fight against it with all our might and vain. And on top of it we make up stories about everyone else and how they are all the bad guys, and we are the only good one left on this planet. What is funny is that we humans have a fantastic skill to ignore what is happening and wish something else is happening.

Let’s say we have fallen sick – we will spend most of our time thinking about why it happened and why it is so bad that we are unwell, as opposed to accepting we are sick and then just moving on. Nothing is that easy for us – why would we make it easy? Our Life is supposed to be a misery and of our own making. Sometimes I wonder – the saying, ‘I was born intelligent – education (growing up) ruined me.’ might have a grain of truth in it.

Why do we fight against accepting what is? Habit, perhaps. We do not know any better. I don’t know. But I do know that we fight before allowing – that is the truth. Regardless of why we do it, now that we know that we do not go with the flow – what can we do about it? How do you go with the flow?

The first step for everything is awareness – become aware of the situation that you are resisting right now? Is it a difficult stakeholder at work? A tough circumstance in personal life? Is your car not working?

The second step after awareness is accepting the reality as it is. Accept that car is not working. Accept that you have a problematic stakeholder at work. Accept the problematic situation in life. Face it – look it in the eye.

And do not beat yourself up if you do not accept it entirely but when you do accept it and surrender you will know what the next step is – that is magic.

Will you let the magic happen in your life?

True Connection

While doing the annual house cleaning, I decided to watch some Netflix to give me company. I was not looking for something particular, so I did a quick browse, and the name ‘Watership Down’ sounded familiar, and it was an animation with rabbits – I pressed play and settled down to clean with a fun cartoon series. However, a few minutes in – I was gripping the edge of my seat. Watership Down was not at all happy hoppy, jumpy bunny story but it was a reflection of humankind in 1972 which sadly is no different from today.

The point I want to bring up is that what we see and think in our head – does not match up with reality, but we believe in the illusion in our minds than the truth as it manifests.

One of the Bollywood actors was saying that Social Media has also become a channel for hate with no repercussions. People write all kind of stuff because they do not have to face the outcome. If they were to meet the person they were writing about in person – they wouldn’t say what they had to say. Social media in some ways dehumanizes – disconnects from humanity. The other side of the coin is that Social Media when used appropriately, lets us connect to a large number of people.

How many times has it happened that you have imagined something about somebody or cooked up a story about what happened? And when you get to meet the person or find out what ‘really’ happened, it was nowhere close to what you were thinking. Our minds are a tool, and if not tamed they are like a wild monkey jumping from one branch to other and cooking up stories – yes, literally cooking up stories because that is what the mind does.

Our minds like any unruly child do not want to do our bidding, and thus it devises these distractions, and it has years of practice of going untamed. And what it creates is not real, its an illusion – showing us the reality is not one of our mind’s strengths, in fact, it should just observe not judge. And humans are still struggling to use the mind as a tool for centuries – so we get caught up in the drama in our heads and then go about to play it out in real life. Sadly, for us, it works most of the time or we each seem to think so and thus the disconnect. Our minds have taken fodder from the media, TV, books, society to form our reality even before it has happened and that clouds our eyesight and prevents us from seeing from what the truth is.

Don’t believe me – think of someone who genuinely meant harm to you and you know for sure – it is an undeniable fact that they were going to harm you. Go on. I dare you!

For most of us, the answer would be no one – except our minds. And yet, we live in a world where we do not believe in positive intent. It is time to wake up and connect.

Who will you connect with today?

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?

A Whole New World

I am sure all of us have heard the Aladdin’s song – A Whole New World. And I am sure they could see a whole new world and a fantastic view from the carpet.

A few of us also believe in the parallel universe theory, where we might be doing different things – altogether a completely new world. And then we have people who believe in Aliens – that’s an altogether completely different world as well.

But, we don’t have to go that far to visit new worlds. They exist right here, right now. For example, my mom hangs the laundry on the terrace. One day it looked it like it was about to rain – so the maid asked if she should bring the clothes down. I was listening to the conversation, and I had just looked at the weather on my phone, and I let them know that it wasn’t going to rain – and the sun will be out in a few minutes. All of us went our ways.

In half an hour, the sun was shining brightly, and the maid noted to my mom, ‘Anu looked at the phone and said it wasn’t going to rain – a good thing, I did not bring the clothes down.’ Our maid does not know how to read or write – so for her what I did was from another world. 

This leads me to my topic – can you imagine the world that she lives in – where there are no letters, no alphabets. How do you make sense of a world if you are not literate? Her generation probably grew up in the era when the world was changing – when girls were sent to school and she probably just missed the window. [There are adult literacy classes offered for free by the government for this section of people]. I cannot imagine a world where I cannot read or write. See, we have two different worlds right here amidst us.

Similarly, our building watchman has no family, no possessions – he gets his salary as a watchman and doing ad-hoc laborer task. He does not own a single thing except maybe a few sets of clothes. And I believe that this is choice he has made. In this day and age, it is not difficult for an average man to work enough to get a roof to call his own and accumulate a few possession. Again, a very different world than mine. The minimalism that I am aiming for does not even come close to describing his lifestyle.

What this means is we might be living on the same planet earth, but, we all inhabit a different planet. We create our worlds in our mind and whether we realize it or not we all have individual mini planets that we live in, even on the planet called earth. Maybe, it is time to delve deeper and explore the world we live in before we start exploring the worlds beyond.

What will you explore today in your world?

Do We Realize?

Life as we know is very fleeting, but we live as we are immortals. Do we ever wake up in the morning feeling so grateful because we are alive, our dear ones are alive? No, we take it for granted that we will wake up in the morning every time we go to bed.

I am not proposing that we live in fear of death every second of our lives and as Goenka Ji says, ‘Cry on our birthdays because we are one year closer to death.’ All I want to do is to bring attention (however fleeting it might be) to the beautiful feeling of being alive which we seem to have permanent amnesia for.

Even if we do experience death of another person, we think about it for a few hours, few days and almost never in the context that we will also die but how we miss the other person. When in reality there is a lot of commonalties between death and birth.

In both instances, there is a magic that happens. In birth, a person suddenly starts existing and in death suddenly a person stops existing. In both cases we are naked and left only with ourselves – our family, well-earned grades, paid off loans – nothing we bring with us or take with us. We come with our body and leave with it.

Life and death are not opposites but two different sides of the same coin. If you know how to die well, that means you know how to live well. And if you know how to live well, then you are ready for death. What does living well or dying well mean to you? No simple answer to this question.

Why is that when we live we never give death a thought? We never live like we are going to die at any moment – Because we are disillusioned. The illusion has become a reality and we are so caught up in it that nothing is real for us. All the things we do in this life we think of it as permanent, real – something that we have control over. When in the blink of an eye we will willingly/unwillingly leave it all. And this is the reason why talking about death is a taboo because it reminds us of how fragile and delicate our lives are. And we don’t believe in that – it’s like emperor’s new clothes, nobody is willing to say that the emperor is naked.

Again, do not think that I am advocating that everybody you meet – you tell them, ‘you are going to die’ albeit a true statement. Given the immersion in our different realities in this Maya, at the very least ponder on the fact that if you are going to die then how will it change the way you live your life. If reading this blog has made you grateful that you are alive, even once that that is one time more than never. 

What will change in your life now that you have been reminded that death is inevitable?

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?

Necessity – Creation – Jugaad

India has started a new system where every Indian is required to get an Aadhaar card much like the Social Security Number (or SSN) in the US. Now, India has a population of 1 billion and the USA about 328 million. While I was in India, my parents suggested getting my Aadhaar card done as well. So, we go to the bank, and like all government offices in India after a little bit of back and forth across a few officers we got the form, got a token and sat down for our turn. The bank was like a regular bank – a cashier, three counters, two offices, and a receptionist. The only twist was a guy was sitting on a makeshift table with a lamp and a laptop with a webcam. I asked my dad – who is calling out the token numbers and just then the guy on the makeshift table called out our number – he was processing the applications for Aadhaar cards.

I go over to his ‘office,’ and he has to take a passport photo to complete the application. I sit on a stool – there is a white paper behind me stuck to the wall with sellotape (scotch tape for those who live in the US), and he uses the lamp as a flash and takes a photo using the webcam on this laptop. And we are done. This kind of a temporary ‘Make-do’ arrangement is what I love about India and Indians. It is the only way you can get done something on a large scale (rolling of the cards to 90% of the population) where most of the population is illiterate. It’s people like the guy sitting in his makeshift office across India that made it happen.

Such arrangements are so common in India that we have a word for it called ‘Jugaad’ – Jugaad (a word taken from Hindi which captures the meaning of finding a low-cost solution to any problem in an intelligent way) is a new way to think constructively and differently about innovation and strategy.

And that is why necessity is the mother of creation which we Indians are born with – we have limited resources, lots of constraints and stuff still needs to get done and does get done.

A lot of times we are hung up on having all the right tools, right resources to get work done and in some cases right mood or the right attitude when what needs to happen is to take the first step, fail fast and not worry about getting it perfect. For people who have the means to get all the right stuff before usually fall into this trap but for those who do not have the means – their focus is on getting it done, they don’t have distractions like having the right size pencil to start drawing. If you think in this fashion, then there is nothing that can stop you from doing anything. All you need is to want something badly, and you will find a way to make it happen.

What are we waiting for? Let’s make it happen.

Birthplace and Death

All of my paternal grandmothers have breathed their last in our ancestral village – the village where they were married into not the village where they were born. This topic was the talk of the town for quite a while. Even now somebody will say – it is very curious that all the daughter in laws of this family died in their husbands’ house. In Indian culture after a daughter is married, she is technically a part of her husband’s family, village and hence the significance that they died where they were married into – and also in the ancestral home not in the city they lived.

In India, these things are not just mere occurrences – there is some meaning behind everything – we might have forgotten the meaning, but the meaning still exists. For example, women in India wear bangles because the touch of the bangles on the forearm is supposed to calm you down and in olden days women folk all lived together, and hence patience was a much-needed quality.

The reason I bring up this topic is – I believe that you are born in a place for a reason, and your body inherently knows it as its home because that’s where it breathed its first breath and that’s where it’s most comfortable. For the last two years due to some reason or other, I could not visit India. And towards the end, I could feel it as a physical imbalance in my body. Now, I don’t know how true that is and how much it is in my head, but something was happening. When I landed in India – the minutes I stepped out the plane my body breathed freely even though it is hot and humid. The smells, familiar faces, accent makes me feel at home. It’s like I can be myself without thinking. If you have never lived in a different culture or a country, then it will be hard to comprehend what I mean by ‘being myself without thinking.’

Every culture has its norms some of them are explicit and some of it implicit. Like in England – talking about the weather is a way of saying Hello. In India, it is ok for a stranger to ask you how much is your salary. If you move to a different culture in some ways you are trying to fit in as you do not know what is accepted – what kind of clothing, food is accepted – so whether you realize it or not if you are thinking about these things which do take a toll on your body. And then some places are a lot more inviting to accepting other cultures, and some are not. For example, London invites different cultures, and that’s why I still feel at home in London. But not all places are as welcoming as London, and that means you, your mind, your body, and soul have to do extra work to fit in.

At the end of the day, you are where you need to be – there is no denying that, whether you believe it or not is not relevant. And it only makes ‘the’ you in you more defined.

Camera Lens

I practice Vipassana Meditation – Vipassana in Pali means “To see things as they are”.

And in the book Non Violent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg he also talks about “Observing without judgment”.

At one level it makes perfect sense – how can we live in this world if we are not able to see things as they are?. If you see a red apple, you see a red apple. If you see a tall building, you see a tall building. It is easy to see the reality as it is in such matters.

But, how about when you look at your best friend talking to somebody else, and you think, “she does not love me anymore.”
Or, when you see someone else and think, “He is so much more handsome than me.”
Or, you see somebody at work and think, “Man, I will never be like that person.”

Now, in these instances are you seeing the reality as it is? And these are the situations when we should see the truth as it is and not as we would like it to be.

When a baby is born in the world, let’s assume that they start with a clean slate (not getting into past karma) – They should be able to see the reality as it is right? Is that true? If your parents smoked when you were a kid smoking will not be a bad thing for you, and that’s your reality but is it how things are in the world. From the time we are born we are creating our realities – as we grow up we have created the world we live in and the illusion is so strong that it is almost real.

When the seed of enlightenment sprouts within you (because all human beings have the seed) then we have a desire to see who we are. And we start exploring which leads us to things like NVC, Vipassana, CPM, etc. And what these things do is to give us a way to see within ourselves – look inward because from the time we are born we are always outward focused. And when we look inward and can understand the inner workings of our body and mind, we move one step closer to realization. One way to start is to look at life as you are looking at it from a camera lens – for example, “All you see is your best friend talking to somebody else.” (not that she does not like you anymore).

Then the question arises – how do we know that what we are experiencing is the ultimate reality? This is where my favorite quote comes in as the answer, “In this plane, there are no answers, and beyond this plane, there is nobody to ask the question.”

One thing is for sure, what you experience right now is your reality, and that is as good as any the place to start from. Maybe when you start you blame the other party 100%, and maybe after working on oneself for a while you will begin to see your part in what happened, and as you continue to work on yourself you will eventually come to the realization that whatever happens is 100% because of you whether you know it or not. Once we accept this reality as our real progress begins – changes truly start from within. And we are more focused because we are not distracted by what others are doing but what is going on inside of oneself.