Category Archives: Musings

Forgotten Story

We were lucky enough to meet a lovely couple friend of ours while at the wedding of a common friend in the charming city of Pas Robles. We literally ran into them and decided to have a very relaxing brunch. While the food did a great job of satisfying our appetite, it was the conversation which satisfied our souls.

What caught my attention was the quote that one of our friends mentioned – ‘Life is a story forgotten by its author’. The context was he was talking about his dad, who has senile dementia – so short term memory loss. And his dad was a greatly accomplished man – went to Harvard. And now in some ways, it is unfortunate (or fortunate) that he cannot remember his past. When he mentioned the line – it just caught my attention.

All of us do amazing things in our life for the sole reason that we all live the human predicament. And I am not talking about going to an Ivy school or winning Nobel prize – every one of us has a beautiful life whether we believe it or not is a different story. Each one of us has gone through a unique circumstance that has made us who we are, and the universe loves uniqueness – no two of us are alike. And we end up being attached to what we did or how the society expected us to define ourselves.

I went to London Business School – a prestigious MBA school if you move around in those circles. I was one of the youngest to get admitted to the school, which has a 25% acceptance rate. That means for every 100 students who apply only 25 get selected. And while we lived in London, it was a significant portion of my identity. London Business School defined who I was. And then we moved to Columbus, Ohio, and almost 99% of the people I met were not even aware of the existence of London Business School. I also had one gentleman ask me what an MBA was. I went through an identity crisis during the first few months. And it made me realize that I did not know who I was, honestly. Who I was – was a collection of the places I had been to and my accomplishments. Not having to define myself was freeing, made possible by not having to move in circles where I have to define who I am to gain a place in the societal hierarchy. I still use it when needed but knowing very well that it is not who I am.

We do all these great things and at the end of the day (I mean death) it does not matter. If we were to lose our memory today would what we have done till date matter? Then, the critical question is, what matters? Well, if we lost our memory, then the only thing that matters is the present moment – NOW. Who we are cannot be destroyed by erasing our memories – and most of us have barely started on the journey to understand who we are. Why wait for death or amnesia to begin finding out who we indeed are?

Who Am I?

Empty Your Cup

Let’s start with a story this time

Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.

Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full and then kept on pouring. The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”

“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

This zen parable does not need any explanation. We are all guilty of it; well, most of us are. It is good to have opinions or ideas as they help us move. The views and the speculations give us the confidence to move forward. It is when they become ‘THE’ opinion that it prevents us from learning.

For example, let’s say I am trying on a new recipe which requires me to steam the potatoes. I do exactly as the recipe says and the dish turns out to be perfect. I make it when my friends come over; they compliment the meal. I have a strong opinion about how to best use potatoes in a dish. Now, my friend comes across, and she says it would be quicker to boil the potatoes than steam them. If I were open to learning, I would at least give it a try. There could be two outcomes – a) The potatoes are done faster, and the dish tastes the same or even better b) The potatoes are done quicker, but the recipe turns out to not so good.

If you are afraid of failure, the chances are you will not try a new technique. Being open to learning means that you have to embrace failure. And to do that, we have to make space for either teaching or failure. And as per the parable if we are full of ourselves, then we have no space. We will be stuck with something that worked for us without moving onto a better version.

There is no denying the fact that it is hard to accept that what worked so well for you in the past is no longer working for you; in fact, it might even be deemed harmful. Our attachment to our way of working is so powerful, and it is this attachment that causes us grief when we try to break it off.

The best way to handle this is to first, respect and honour what worked for you so long – the opinions you held were working. Second, be open to failure and learning – this is hard, the more you do it, the easier it gets. Third, do not beat yourself about it – there is nothing in this life that is worth beating yourself up about; you are just making it difficult for you to learn in the future. Easier said than done, I know.

Practice is the best teacher. Like everything else, it is all about building the muscle. To build the muscle, you have to exercise it as much as possible. You can start by failing in small matter like rolling your tongue, riding a bike without holding the handles, learn a new hobby etc.

What will you learn/fail to make space for new opinions?

Limited By Our Thoughts

Adam and I were discussing cartoon movies we have watched in the past like Cars, Toy Story, How to train your dragon, Kung Fu Panda and Up. The storyline for these movies except Up is primarily based on personification. Up is truly an outlier – ‘a little out of this world’, especially the relationship between the old guy and the young boy scout. Think back to the last book you read or the movie you watched. The plot usually revolves around our daily lives.

There is a book by Christopher Booker titled, ‘The Seven Basic Plots’ which says that there is only seven basic plot. Even the fantasy, Sci-fi movies revolve around these seven plots.

  • Overcoming the Monster.
  • Rags to Riches.
  • The Quest.
  • Voyage and Return.
  • Rebirth.
  • Comedy.
  • Tragedy.

Our imagination, thoughts, ideas, reality and ultimately, the world we live in is limited by what we know. Hopefully, it is dawning on most of us that the world we live in and the consciousness that exists needs an upgrade soon; otherwise, we will be obsolete. With global warming, climate change, increasing focus on genders – we have to do something fast before the universe decides to ignore this speck and continue on its journey.

A shift is happening in some pockets. It may seem very different from our recurring themes to date that our first reaction may be to reject it. For example, in Japan – Akihiko Kondo married his favourite cartoon character. Check out this story at this link in bbc.com . I am sure the people who read this article had a variety of responses ranging from appalled to excited to indifference. But what if this is what will take us to the next level – our next operating system upgrade. It is possible that in the future, a child being born from a mother’s womb becomes a rarity. Let’s face it – human beings are the only race on earth that is not in danger of getting extinct anytime soon. Maybe nature in collaboration with us is trying to help us save us from ourselves?

My favourite quote attributed to Einstein’s is: “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” The only time we ever genuinely transcend a problem is when we get new, fresh thinking about it. In other words, we experience a jump in consciousness. This is what is needed now. For this, it requires us to look past what is known and comfortable to us and embrace the new. Even if we are not able to embrace them right away, can we at least keep an open mind and see where it takes us. This leap of faith requires us to make a transition from our known ways of thinking of unique styles of existence which may be beyond imagination.

This requires us to look past our current biases around issues like LGBTQ, Eating meat, immigration, mine vs yours and so on. Unless we can move past these judgements based on the label and randomly drawn lines on the map, we will not be creating space for the change.

How will you create space in your life?

Distorted View

Montessori Mafia – is a nickname coined for the people like Google’s founders Larry Page and Sergei Brin, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, videogame pioneer Will Wright, and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, not to mention Julia Child and rapper Sean “P.Diddy” Combs. These are well-known people who have been to Montessori. Now, my eleven-year-old nephew also goes to Montessori. His response was, ‘You know, there are lots of other people who graduate from Montessori.’ That one statement puts it in perspective.

Similarly, let’s say you are an inspirational speaker; all your events are jam-packed. At one event, you spot some empty seats – and suddenly you are not a successful speaker. All those previous full house events that you spoke at are out of the window. It does not take a lot for us to switch our views even in the face of glaring evidence.

We all do this – in our personal lives, in professional lives, in small ways, in significant fundamental ways.

Recently, I read the book, ‘Brave New Work’ where he talks about how there was a rigorous process for a factory worker to get gloves because at some point somebody stole a box of gloves. We obsess so much over losing that one box of gloves that we forgot about all the 99% of the time when it worked well. We plan for exceptions, we plan for things not going well – but do not take into account what happens most of the times. For example, in the glove example – we want to penalize all the other workers because one worker decides to swizzle the system.

How much of our own lives do we plan around the one thing that has a tiny probability of happening? We had one bad experience talking to a stakeholder at work, and we prepare ourselves to deal with such situations for eternity. We conveniently forget about a dozen times in the past when we have had no issues. We are trying to protect ourselves – I understand but admit it, it is a distorted view.

It’s like it rained hard when you had a garden party once – so now you wear a raincoat to all the garden parties. Silly, right? But, sometimes that’s how we live our lives too. That one time we had a heartbreak – we let it dictate all our future relationships – in some cases, we take it with us to the grave.

We have to prepare ourselves when things do not go as planned but live our entire lives assuming things are not going to be that way is a little extreme. What can we do about it? If a situation is causing us to worry, then it might worth checking to see if I am planning for the 1% that will rarely happen or the 99% that usually happens. If we focus on 1% that does not go well – since we are focused on it – it becomes our life.

What are you focusing on these days?

It’s Not Worth It

At work, one of the peers has this annoying habit of forwarding emails that I have already received – and these emails are more of the provocative nature (focusing solely on issues or highlighting where things are not working). I used to respond to these emails. But, as things got hectic, I did not have the patience to do that, so I decided to delete such emails. Funnily, enough one of my team members mentioned the same thing, ‘Why does she/he keep sending emails? And it gets my mind racing.” I told her – “Ignore the emails – just delete it – it’s not the best use of your time.”

There was another time when I was worried about something at work, and one of my peers nonchalantly made a statement, ‘It’s not worth putting energy into.”

How many times in our lives do we spend an obscenely vast chunks of time spending emotional/mental (and sometimes even physical) energy on something tiny? It’s not worth it.

I cannot recall which book I was reading, but one of the statements in the book was, “You are a tiny speck in the universe, and nobody gives a shit about you.” All the things that we do to make ourselves feel important – at some level, they are meaningless.

How do we first identify that it’s not worth spending our energy on? One of the critical indicators could be – ‘Are you dealing with an exception or a regular occurrence?’ If it is an exception and happens once every five years – not worth it. And if it does happen – then yeah, find a way to deal with it and move on. The thing about life that people forget is ‘Moving On’ refers to your thoughts and mental state as well – Keep Moving.

Another question could be, ‘What kind of an impact will this have in my life?’ Do you keep thinking about traffic, or do you think about your future partner? If it has no impact on your life – there is your answer. It seems ridiculously simple, but I find myself surprised at the inordinate amount of time I spend thinking about something that does not even occur in my life.

Ok, so now you can identify which questions are worth it and which are not? Now, how do you get your mind to move in the same direction? Training our minds is where most of us struggle. Most of the time, we are so unconscious that we do not even know what we are thinking. We are all puppets of our minds – Somebody says something to us, and off we go on a roundtrip around the world. We rarely ask ourselves – is my mind focusing on what I want it to think? Meditation is one way to train the mind – watch your thoughts, become aware of them and awareness will automatically bring it to your attention – when you can make a conscious choice about whether it’s worth it or not and move on.

What things are you spending time on which are not worth it?

State Of Things

During our trip to Turkey, we went to visit the ruins which were just outside the city. The guide took us to the ruins where the hospital had once stood, and he said, ‘This hospital was famous for not having a single patient die on them.’ We all looked at him expectantly and then said, ‘That’s because they never took on those patients who might die.’

For as long as humans exist – I can guarantee that if a system exists, we will know how to game it. How is it what the Turks did any different from the corporates of today who slightly modify their metrics to tell the story they want.

It makes you wonder – Have we been caught up so much in the gaming the system that we have lost sight of the fact that it is a system – not THE system. Sometimes I wonder that is why we lack imagination. Don’t agree with me. Let’s journey through history to see the standard plot lines.

  • Kings occupied other countries and waged war. (This is a cyclical process)
  • World War 1
  • World War 2
  • Even now, the squabbling of the territory continues like Palestine/Kashmir…
    If you think the story will change in the future – think again. Aliens and planets will replace people and Places in the above examples. It’s like we don’t know anything else except fighting for land and amassing power. These are the stories that continue throughout the history of humankind and will continue to dominate the future too unless something changes.

The question that arises now is why change? To understand the answer take a look at the state of your country, the world. Are we in a better place than when we started – no, in fact, we are regressing at such a rapid rate that at some point we might not exist at all. Life on earth might be better off if you took humans away.

Why haven’t we changed? Because we are focused on playing the game that we have become the character and forgotten that it’s just a game. We are so focused on getting through the daily grind of our lives that we seldom stop to wonder if there is any point to the daily grind? So many of our societal models are outdated, like the entire production floor in factories. Our education system, our offices, even our traffic lights are designed to support the mindless thinking required from a factory worker. There was a time when that was needed. But in today’s day and age, we need self-managed, innovative, creative people.

In schools, kids are expected to sit at their desks quietly for five to six hours a day – which kid can do that, but this is all training so that when you grow up, you can go and do this in a factory. If you look around, you will see a lot of examples where active questioning is discouraged. Things are changing like Montessori schools, remote offices – these changes are happening in small pockets. We need to embrace these and refine these models to arrive at a new system that will ensure a sustainable future – one that is vastly different from where we started.

How are you going to embrace change, today?

You Have To Earn It.

I did a couple of Bollywood Dance workshops for kids at a library during the summer holidays. The library staff had been reaching out to me for a couple of years, but the timing worked out this year, so I said yes, mostly out of guilt and also at the happiness she expressed when I responded to her email.

My parents are in town, so we made a day trip of it. I was not expecting much, and this was my first time teaching kids who are in the range of 3 yrs – 8 yrs old. Both sessions went well – the kids all joined in, even kids who were too young tapped their feet. They all followed the instructions and happily danced away. Even the library staff, teachers and kids – grandparents joined in.

After the session, a couple of kids came up and gave me a penny and a rubber band – bracelet (which is a very precious commodity at their age) as a gift. A couple of kids gave me hugs, and a few of them came over and said how much they loved it.

As we were driving back, we were discussing the gifts, and it made me wonder. These kids knew me for less than forty minutes, and they were showering with me affection right after that. They are so free with their love and displays of affection. What happens to us when we grow up? People have to earn our love and friendship – it is no longer freely given. We no longer get recognized for doing our job – we need to go above and beyond our duty to distinguish ourselves and gain recognition. What has changed in the value of love from the time we were kids to the time we start working that it has become such a scarce resource. And we are not talking about diamonds or even chocolates which cost money – we are just talking about appreciation, simple gestures of gratitude which are free but priceless at the same time.

So, at work I am of the mindset that if somebody has done something to evoke the feeling of gratitude in me, then they hear about it – it does not matter whether we have achieved the result or not. One of my peers got us external help that enabled us to move forward, and I told him how grateful I was – and he said, ‘Don’t thank me, yet’. I told him – I will, it’s my choice, and I did. Why do we have to wait to express our love or gratitude unless they have proven something – are we not capable of feeling gratitude and love just for the heck of it. Somewhere in our civilization process, we have lost this beautiful practice of expressing love and appreciation. The irony is we chase after happiness even though we have it. We do not accept it because we are waiting for something grand to happen before we take what we are already feeling.

How will you give gratitude and love freely?

It’s Not Working.

How many times do you go through your pantry and throw away stuff that has expired or gone bad? The things you thought you would use but have forgotten or no longer need.

How often do you go through your closet and select clothes to throw away or donate? Clothes that do not fit you or are out of fashion.

Now, how often do you go through your thoughts or beliefs and throw the ones that are not working for you any more? The beliefs that do not serve you but have become harmful.

At some point in my life I thought that a) I could only have one best friend and b) that friend should know everything about me or more than others. Now at that young age, it was possible to do that – but as I grew up it became impossible because the social circle changed, I changed – things that I thought were important were no longer relevant. That belief was not working for me, so I had to change it – expand it.

It was an innocuous belief, but it had far-reaching impacts on who I trust even now. I know what I don’t do, which is a blessing, but it doesn’t change what I do. It is an effort.

We all have such mental models on which we base our life. And these models worked when they did – that’s why we use them again and again, but there comes the point when they don’t work, but we still try to use them like squeezing the honey out of an empty bottle. A wise person would wake up to the fact that the bottle is empty and its time to get a new jar of honey.

It is obvious to use when we outgrow our clothes, but we are very negligent when it comes to our thoughts and mental models. Mental hygiene is not taught in our society. Nobody talks about it – that is another widely held belief in the community. So much of the problems in the world exist because we do not let go of what has expired. Imagine eating food that has expired – no way; we throw it away even if it is a day past. But we hold onto thoughts are that centuries old. Don’t believe me – then take up any popular Netflix show – you will see the same themes pop up – underdogs rising, a man fighting with a man for territory (or planet), greed, politics. We haven’t changed and never will unless there is a rise in consciousness.

Real change and a much-needed one can happen if each one of us becomes aware – self-management is the key. A tree knows what it has to do when it rains or when it’s windy. We do too, but we have been focused on how we look, how others look that we never look inside to see what we know.

If each one of us took upon us to wake up our inner compass, the world would be a different place to live. How will you go about discovering your inner compass today?

It’s Not The Same.

We recently played a game – Dayam, it is popular in the villages of South India. I had played it as a child growing up and recalled fond memories of playing it with cousins and other friends to pass the time in the long hot summer holidays. I had got the board and the dice years ago but never got a chance to play it – so we decided to play it with my parents. To my surprise – the game was not as much fun as I expected it to be.

I watched a show on Netflix called Perfect Match – it is about two chefs. A uber wealthy couple comes to dine at the restaurant, and they wanted to taste the same dish that the chef had made 50 years ago when they got married. The younger chef has the exact recipe that her father had used to prepare for their wedding, and she decides to make that same dish. The experienced chef modifies his recipe. The couple loves the modified recipe, and to her surprise when the young chef tastes her recipe, she does not like it, either.

What happens? The experienced chef explains it to the younger chef – that the couples taste and ours to evolve with time. When the couple got married, they did not care about eating organic, or they were not watching their salt intake – so if he had served them the same recipe, they would not have liked it.

It’s the same with us and our lives – our taste evolves but memories linger. That is why as we grow old things from the past seem more enticing and exciting than they were because they get enhanced as our experience increases.

Life is change at its core – we change, our tastes change as we experience life in our way – this is why sometimes it is harder to connect with friends back home because the path travelled are so different that we are at different places in our lives with no overlap. That is normal and ok. Our tastes change – that is how we improve. If I ran meetings the way, I did before I would have learnt nothing. The foods that I eat today are a lot different than what I used to eat before — everything changes – what we do today, what we like today, what we wear today.

And this personal change is reflected in the world around us – our attitude towards sex, climate change, IVF babies, plant-based food, liquid food, online ordering. Life is not what it used to be when we grew up, and this is how it is going to be.

What this means is to enjoy each experience for what it is – not holding onto it, and it is the experience that counts – every interaction changes us as a person – it is up to us to decide how we want to change and include or stay away from that change or accept that change in our lives.

What is your relationship with change?

Is It The Right Knife?

During my first Vipassana Service, I served in the kitchen. And we usually cook for like about 70-90 people – breakfast, lunch for these many people. And it means everything we do is in huge quantities like potatoes – 4 Kgs, cucumber – 2 Kgs. One of the tasks that I was assigned to was cutting tomatoes – Kilos of them. I admit that I was a novice at cooking and had a hard time cutting tomatoes because the knife would just slide by as opposed to make a clean cut. One of my fellow servers saw me struggling with tomatotes and came over with a serrated knife and cutting tomatoes has been a source of joy since then.

Have you ever tried to slice ginger? If so, then you probably know that if you are having a hard time slicing it then it probably means you just have to flip it to the other side. Yes, one side of ginger is more amenable to being cut than the other.

What does all this mean? That things do not have to be hard – if they are then that means you are doing it the hard way, not necessarily that it is hard.

This technique is not restricted only to cutting vegetables or in the kitchen – this is true even for life. When we are doing something for the first time, it is hard because we are figuring out which knife to use for which vegetables – which side to turn the ginger on to ensure that the knife slices smoothly. When I became a people leader – it was hard because I was learning, and as I keep at it, I realized that I have a toolkit and now I use the tool needed for that situation.

People might tell you how to be a great leader, you can read all the books you want, but nothing can replace the hands-on experience. Sometimes people who write the books are so well experienced in their craft that they do not think that mentioning that using a ‘serrated’ knife is the key because for them it is the only way to cut tomatoes. We build our toolkit – the one that works for us, not the one that made the author successful. It does not mean that you have nothing to learn from the books – of course, you do, but just reading books is not going to cut it.

If something is hard, then it is a good thing because it means you will eventually learn how to make it easy or you will learn something new. Giving up is not the option – a lot of people say nowadays I have so many emails in my inbox that I cannot read all emails – Excuses!!! If you cannot manage your inbox, then how are you managing your life. You haven’t figured out how to manage your inbox the easy way, and you have given up and accepted that it is hard – that is a sad situation.

Which knife are you looking for?