Happy New Year All.
This year we were in Sydney for the New Years and decided to do what we never did even once in the seven-year we lived in London. Watch the fireworks in person. A well-organized event in Sydney. There are different vantage points. The one we chose was the McMahons point – it opens from 8 am – 1 pm but capacity is limited to 15000. We reached there at 4:00 – the place was packed. We managed to squeeze in our three chairs somehow and just sat there ignoring the irritated looks of the people next to us. We could see the Opera house on the left, Harbour Bridge in front of us and then a sea of people with humongous colorful umbrellas and tents.
Around 4:00 pm it was still hot in Sydney, so everybody was applying sunscreen on a regular basis, but as the evening cooled down, tents come down, people wore sweatshirts to protect themselves from the chilly winds. And by that time we had practically become family to our initially unfriendly neighbors. The huge crowd of thirteen teenagers and one mom who was parked in front of us were asking us to move closer as their tent come down. I was tapping my feet to their music. We even sang happy birthday to somebody in the group at midnight. Somethings happen only in cities – where strangers share intimate, private moments and then go back to being strangers.
I was quite impressed by the portable toilets. There were about 20 toilets at the lower level and maybe another five male toilets at the upper level. That meant roughly one bathroom for 600 people. The queues were thirty minutes to one hour long. But they were all clean and operational even at 11:30 pm. Now that is an impossible feat if you ask me – hats off to the planners.
As we started getting closer to midnight, I could feel the excitement building up in the air. People got their glow necklaces, bracelets, and headbands. Now that it was dark we noticed the projections on the wall on the two sides of the bridge. And as a teaser, they release fireworks for five minutes at 8:30 and at 10:30 pm. People would gather and stand up as it neared those times.
Fireworks were shot from the boats behind the bridge, and they lighted up the bridge. It looked as if the bridge itself was a silent spectator enhancing the beauty of the fireworks. The way wind was blowing all the smoke shifted towards opera house which looked like three priests looking out from their cowls in the darkness. The display for five minutes was so dazzling that I found myself looking forward to the twelve-minute show at midnight.
And soon enough after a surprisingly quick 8 hours, the final countdown started from 75 seconds. And there was silence as the fireworks exploded like there was no tomorrow (which was true for 2017). There were different types of fireworks with varied colors. Some were concentric circles of different colors. Kids immediately labeled it as a rainbow. Then there was golden rocket which sprouted a dozen others as it fizzled out. And they made full use of the bridge. They shot upwards from the top of the bridge; there even was a golden waterfall at the end from the bottom of the bridge. The trains still going across the bridge just made the experience even more surreal. Crowds Oohed and Aahed with the rhythm of the fireworks. Little kids perched on their dad’s shoulder watched with their mouths open, finger pointed, but no voice came from them. As the frenzy grew so did the fireworks, it was like without a break.
When it was all done we made our way back home taking the miracle of the fireworks – Thank you #Sydnye (Syd New Year’s Eve). We could not have found a better way to usher in the New Year.
Adam and I were walking to a coffee shop downtown. I saw this lanky young man with a head full of thick curls walking towards us. He was talking non-stop and was holding onto his pants. As he walked past us I realized that he was talking to himself and not on bluetooth as I had assumed.
For some reason him talking to himself stayed with me for a while. I asked my husband, “What goes through your mind when you see a mad person talking to himself?” His answer was,”Compassion. I think that homeless people are judged twice – once because of their condition and second because of the way we treat them – with fear, pity , ignorance.” Did I ever tell you that Adam is a really nice guy?
My initial thought when I see a crazy person is Fear but not because I am afraid of them. I am scared that there is a very fine line that separates me from them. He talks out aloud where as my mind talks inside all the time. I will be honest and this is not an original thought (if there is such a thing). I read this in the opening pages of the Tolle’s Power Of Now. I read that book about ten years ago now and I am still evolving.
If you want to experiment – just sit quietly and watch where your monkey mind goes. There is no end to the branches it climbs. There is no rhyme or reason to the thoughts – there is no method to madness here. We all carry our monkey mind with us every moment of our living lives.
The difference between crazy person and sane person is that sane person does not talk his thoughts aloud. Probably because sane person is aware that is not accepted social behavior and partially because at some level he knows that whatever goes through his mind is not real. We can distinguish between what is real and what is not at some level. It is a very fine line though.
There is another distinguishing factor – sane person knows that he is not his mind chatter to a certain extent. Let’s say you are in an argument and your mind chatter is running amuck. It’s telling you how the other person is out to get you, they are lying etc etc. There are sometimes when you don’t listen to the mind chatter and you remain calm but there are times when you get carried away with what your mind is telling you. And you become your mind chatter – that’s when we have lost our balance. To use another analogy our head is under water,we have lost touch with what is real and we cannot see clearly. The times when we can ignore our mind chatter, realize that there are two sides to a story and stay calm are the times when our head is above the water.
The human life itself is a very precious gift and being able to watch our mind chatter is another gift – let’s make the most of it.
Let’s take two scenarios.
Scenario 1: You are having a really busy day – rushing from one thing to the other. You have had a whirlwind day – and you have got 15 minutes before you get on tube. You have been looking forward to the 15 minute break all day long and one of your old acquaintance from school calls you. She is looking for a job in your area and needs to touch base with you. Chances are that you are curt or don’t listen to her or listen to her but you just want the call to end. Or you may decide not to even pick up the call.
Scenario 2: Same day as before. And your sister calls you – you pick up the phone and are ready to do whatever she wants – even if it is a catch up.
Now in the above scenario the acquaintance/sister could be anybody can be but the point is if it is somebody you really care about that the conversation is really different. You are coming from a different space and are a different person as opposed to the one in Scenario 1.
Why is that? I am guessing its because we really care for person in scenario 1 than in scenario 2. And when we really care for that person we put them ahead of us – we move from being in a me-centered universe to a other centered universe [Exercises we learnt in CPM]. We are not thinking about how the 15 minute call is impacting me but instead we are thinking about how we can be of service to the other person even if it is by listening.
And in the above two scenarios our behavior was automatic as we have a relationship with those people which has grown organically that way. We did not consciously think about how we are going to behave with them. The key is we can choose the space where we come from regardless of who we are talking to. With people we care about this happens naturally. But next time our friend calls we can choose to be in that space where we are thinking about them.
I am not suggesting that we do this all day long – it would be ideal if we had the capacity to do so without disturbing our inner peace. But it seems like a good world to live in where we put everybody else ahead of us and are truly happy doing that. More and more we live in that space the more easier and nicer our life will be.
I am sure you are thinking if I do that more and more who will do my stuff? What about my thoughts and opinions? The answer is if you put others ahead of yourself the universe will do the same for you. If you don’t believe in the universe or an higher paper then I invite you to think – how important or crucial is the thing or comment you need to tell as opposed to listening. And in the previous example you were ready to use the 15 minutes for your sister so all we need to do is to expand the circle where we include more and more people.
We lived in London for seven years before moving to Columbus. I am fortunate enough to have explored London in different phases. You experience a different London when you are a student – a different one when you are working – a different one when you are on paid holiday. London is the locus if you are into traveling so a lot of people visited us – in fact my dad used to joke that our place was like a B&B and with that comes a truckload of memories. Also the time in London was my phase of self-exploration and I spent a lot of time with lots of people – which again has a lot of memories attached to it. When we lived in London it wasn’t evident but when you come back to London I realized how every place/cafe at least in central London is like a memory stone.
Next year we would have spent five years in Columbus. And one would think that London would feel strange after having lived in Columbus for so long. But thankfully that wasn’t the case. It felt like as if we had never left – like we belonged..
Primarily its because of the connection with the people. I met up with my friend – Ranjani and we started off where we left. It was just like old days – we curled up on the sofa with a throw, had tea and chatted. It’s funny how somethings never change or rather they just follow the same path – we joke about her tea making process, spoke about common friends before moving onto what’s happening in our lives. It’s a straight cut to the chase – no formalities or talking about the weather if you get my drift. Such interactions are precious.
Another reason is the city itself – everybody is from outside so if you have led a nomadic life then you know what I mean.
One morning we went to one of our regular haunts Costa café on Tottenham Court Road and plonked down with our electronic devices. The old couches had been replaced with the swanky chairs but the drink/ambience was the same. And then one of our friends Nick walked in and it seriously felt like old days. There is something so comfortable about hanging out with old friends – almost like muscle memory feels very familiar and comforting. And it happens on its own.
We spent a lovely day with another couple talking about food, being vegan, cycling, podcasting, dance classes. The range of topics we talk about is so different because London opens up your horizons – just living in a city which is so diverse in every which way makes you more accepting and broad minded. As you walk down streets or in the tube and you hear people talking in their native language it feels like home. I don’t feel like an outsider any more – I feel like I belong.
Walk down the SouthBank with one of Adam’s good friend – Viktor made me feel like we had never left London. The same familiar sights – book market/ Wahaca food truck/ ping pong and the hoards of people crossing from Waterloo station to South Bank. It felt so familiar – things have changed and they haven’t
We even made it out to my old Flat in St. Johnswood and as we crossed over to Regent’s park the single decker red 274 Bus was a familiar sight. We have so many memories associated with this bus. It was our single connection to the school while we were students at London Business School. And most of the time it was a race between us and the bus to see who could get there faster. And it was funny how every time you waited for the bus it never showed up and the minute you decided you had enough and you want to walk to school it will show up.
The first few days have been a whirlwind however they filled up my reservoir of memories in my emotional tank which I did not realize needed filling.
We recently visited Ashville, NC. And this is our second trip. First time we were passing by and spent a day here exploring the downtown and cool eating places. To be honest it was a)Dobra Tea House b)Chai Pani that brought us here. We loved it so much that we decided we will make another trip and we did.
I believe that it was more than these two places that made us come back to Ashville. There was this T-shirt that I saw in one of the shops which read “If you are too weird for Ashville, then you are just too weird.” And I agree with this. Ashville residents are not hippie but almost hippie. Lot of people with braided hair and a very nonchalant air about them which comes with meditation or sometimes using other mood enhancing stuff. There is a certain newness in the air as you stroll down the streets. And the fact that the mountains around Ashville are vortex centers might have something to do with it. It’s like Sedona except this is actual city as opposed to tourist stop on your way to Grand Canyon.
Like all such places, Ashville is very open and diverse. In one of the cafes, SunnyPoint cafe restroom signs said “All Gender”. Most places had a sign saying that we welcome all, everybody with pictures of people from different races. And for a place to embrace this unanimously says something about the openness of the culture. If you lived only in Ashville all your life your world would be a lot different.
Ashville has a lot of sass to it – I cannot remember some of the comments but two that stand out are
-Indian restaurant had a sign outside: “Tikka look inside.”
-Sign on a t-shirt: “I don’t carrot at all.”
-The best of all – a different take on religions
The owner of the store who had some of the cool T-shirts recognized our Shiba right away – he was a dog breeder for rottweilers in his past life. People there are very friendly. We ran into this gentleman in dog park who had moved from Texas to Ashville fifteen years ago with his wife. He is a author and piano player and they have a B&B. We got into a very good discussion about writing, MFA etc.They also have this cute little bookshop called Battery Park Exchange which has lots of cute window seats for budding authors. While we enjoyed a cup of tea and carrot cake we saw many groups come and meet in there.
Variety of restaurants in a place is also a good sign of diversity – they had a Mediterranean place called BabaNahm, Thai place, Indian, french, Chinese, Vegan and regular comfort food. We couldn’t try all the places but they were all in the top of the list in TripAdvisor. And if this is not enough they also have a double decker bus from London that serves amazing coffee/desserts.
And last but not the least it is a very dog friendly place. Almost 99% of our conversations with strangers was because of Aki. And they have these cool trails for both humans and pets.
I enjoyed my trip to Ashville and it is a gem in North Carolina. I may be biased in my opinion but as they say “Each to his own.”
Before I start this blog I want to suggest checking out these blog posts.
Aki – A Free Fellow
Journey of Discovery with Aki
As you have probably guessed this post is about our pet dog – Aki.
I never had a pet growing up in India. In fact we were told to be careful of dogs as there are so many stray dogs. And then when I met Adam he told me his stories of his pet Ollie who seemed like a fun dog – sassy. He loved to give Adam a hard time and that resonates with me. Slowly, I started warming up to the idea of having a dog. And when we moved to Columbus or US in general which is super dog friendly – we decided to go ahead and take the plunge and get a dog.
While we were waiting to Aki to reach the twelve weeks mark, so that he could come to our house I remember telling Adam that I cannot imagine having a pet/anyone who will be with us 24 hours – always in the house. And now after almost 18 months with Aki it is hard to imagine the house without him.
We recently made a trip to Ashville – a charming quaint town. And we had no issues taking Aki with us everywhere – there are top eating places/cafes which are dog friendly. You have to be ok with eating outside but apart from that it’s not an issue at all. Most places have a dog bowl – most people in US have a pet or have had a pet.
Aki usually turns quite a few heads – he is just so good looking. I can say that as I cannot take any credit for his good looks. But with that comes the ease of conversations with strangers. We have had all sorts of people come and speak to us because a) they want to know what kind of a dog Aki is b) they want to compliment on what a good looking dog he is c) they just want to pet him d) they cannot resist his cuteness and are drawn to him.
We have had a waiter from a Restaurant, Construction worker, Cafe owner, Kids, old ladies, police officers to name a few who have spoken to us. This makes life easier for me. Believe it or not I do find it awkward to strike up conversations with strangers. With Aki there is none of that – you get straight to the point. In fact people recognized us in Ashville because of Aki. We had gone to check out a dog store where the owner looked at Aki and said, “you guys were at Babnahm (tasty Mediterranean eating place). I saw your shiba there.”
A lot of my friends/Family in other countries like Australia/UK/India/Switzerland etc.. are surprised when we tell them that there are doggy day cares, dog friendly parks, self-wash for dogs and outdoor/patio seating. Of course, it does mean that we haven’t seen the inside of a restaurant in ages but it’s worth it. The simple acceptance/ trust you get from your pet is priceless!
I have not posted much photos of Aki in this blog because I could not decide which one – Here’s the link to his instagram page: Iamluckyaki
I am reading this book called ‘Ego is the enemy.’ One of the speakers at my work mentioned this book and like all things that are on your path call out to you – this book did too. I have been fascinated by ego and always wondered if I have a big ego or not. One of the reasons is that I am very high on an individualistic scale. I love to stand apart, need a high degree of independence and freedom of expression. I also aim high and seem to enjoy power which are the trappings of Ego. And as one progresses on the corporate ladder it becomes even more tricky hence the need to read the book. Now, I haven’t finished the book but that is not a requirement for me to write a blog on ego so here we go.
To begin with Ego is not a bad thing and I don’t think we can be without Ego. Like everything else this is also a tool and we should know how to use it. Like you don’t like being angry but if you see a little kid trying to put his fingers in fire you have to act angry – Ego is a bit like that I believe.
How do you know you have ego problem? Apparently the CEO of one company has very fixed directions on how much cologne his personal steward should apply – now that is definitely an ego problem. To be honest I really don’t know what is that line when it becomes a problem but if we focus on keeping it in balance then we should ok.
What does mean to be in balance then? If something is bothering you then ask yourself is it the Ego in me – do I think I am special enough? Why is something not happening as I want it? All these are in some ways examples of ego. And if some situation in your life is causing you so much pain or suffering that you cannot stop thinking about it- then the best thing to do is to do just the opposite. This is how you will find inner peace. For example if you want your friend to call you because its her turn and now you have spent a week thinking about why she hasn’t called and how great you are etc? Then its about time you give her a call.
The book that I am reading it’s author (Ryan Holiday) says”I hope you will be less invested in the story you tell about your own specialness.” For me that resonated with me deeply and its really hard for me to do. And we all live in a world where the world revolves around us. This whole life is a movie and we are the stars. I am not saying that all of us live our lives with puffed up egos all the time but there are times when admittedly it would make the best sense to not listen to the ego – to lose that argument with a friend even though you know you are right! When you just keep quiet and listen to somebody tell you how much fun they had in London even though you lived in London for years!
This quote sums it all
Let’s take a scenario: You have a early morning meeting at work. And for some reason you slept late the previous night and woke up late. You forgot to make your lunch and it’s your turn to take the puppy out for a morning walk.
I am sure all of us have experienced the following scenarios
1.You work up feeling really great, early morning hour traffic was non existent, your husband decided to take the puppy out – things just flowed and it felt as if the universe was going out of its way to ensure you get to the meeting. And you reached your office in plenty of time and even managed to get Starbucks coffee on your way in.
2. You woke up feeling grumpy,not only you have to take the dog out but also drop him to the day care, and there was an accident on top of the rush hour traffic and by the time you reached office you had missed a couple of meetings and rest of the day was not looking that great either.
There are lots of other examples of being in the flow – when the mojo is just right. Like for one person the promotion was like a cakewalk where as for somebody it took them years. We have all had experiences where it felt as if you were making things happen and also when everything that could go wrong went wrong. And most of the times there is no direct connection between what you did to “deserve” one of the above options.
This is why I love the book “The Artist’s way” by Julia Cameron – she has a way of saying things very clearly and seems to touch a chord in almost all of us in some shape or form if we are ready for it.
If we are on the right track – the one that will make us a better human being then things will happen – timing might not be as we expected but they will. Even when we think the things are not happening as we want them – what is happening is what we exactly need. Like a kid who has a cold but refuses to take the medicine because its bitter but that’s exactly what the doctor ordered.
So then how can we make sure we are in the flow or on the right track. Let’s say you plant a seed of a Neem tree (a very bitter medicinal plant) and you stand in front of it and say “I want sweet mangoes, I want sweet mangoes.” There is no way you are going to get sweet mangoes – you will get bitter Neem leaves only. It is the law of nature – similarly if we plant bitter seeds in our life then we will bear bitter fruits and if plant good seeds then we will taste sweet mangoes in our life. [Credit of the story goes to Goenka Ji from Vipassana]
What are bitter and good seeds then? If we think kind thoughts,do good deeds, enjoy the success of others – these are examples of good seeds. And if we keep cursing others, calling them names when they are not looking or try to prove them wrong so that we can prove ourselves right, take joy in other’s plight then we are planting bitter seeds.
The picture below says it all
The story goes – Abraham Lincoln’s brother wrote him a letter stating that he wanted to move from his current location because he didn’t like the people, didn’t like the place. His brother moved places and after a few months the same story and the same letter to Lincoln. Lincoln wrote back and said, “How could you expect anything to change when you took the problem with you?”
Let’s look at another example, you have got a boil on your arm that refuses to go away and causes a lot of pain. You keep changing the shirts and even move places but the pain does not go away. Any logical person would point out that how could the pain go away when the problem is in you?
It all seems very logical and common sense to us now. How about the situation in our life when we wished that somebody would leave our team? if only the family member we found annoying would go away? If only the next guy I date was really serious? If only the difficult stakeholder would get a new job? If only my boss would quit? The list is endless – everybody else should go away because I am squeaky clean. Sounds familiar?
The world is like a mirror – it reflects back only you. Everybody including the people you like, don’t like, detest, hate, care about are all showing you some part of yourself. If you take it a step further then you actually created them in some sense too, but let’s leave that for now. Wishing other people to go away is not going to take away your problem unless the root of the problem is solved. And it is all within us and we have the power to change ourselves but often times we don’t because it is easy to blame others and be a victim as then I don’t have to do anything else.
Universe wants the best for you and like a loving parent will do whatever it takes to make you better or learn the lesson so that you can grow. And like the casino , universe wins ALL the time so you better listen to it. If you don’t pay attention to its small nudges it will give you a tight slap but it will make you learn the lesson.
Next time when you find the person who annoys you in your life be grateful as now universe is offering you a chance to learn the lesson. Make the most of it with gratitude and courage. It take courage to face our fears and work on one self. The hardest part for working on ourself is that the image we have of ourself breaks and we don’t like that. In our mind we have this lovely beautiful image – I am so great, I am so this and that. And when somebody comes into our life and shows the mirror to us we don’t like what the mirror shows so we blame the person showing the mirror.
As Goenka ji says in Vipassana – if we become aware that we have created the image and have become attached to it. And it’s that attachment that is causing us suffering then light will shine.
When I was in London I took up Bikram Yoga and took it up with a vengeance – I went almost daily for two years until one day I decided it was too much and stopped doing yoga for six months. And now I practice Ashtanga Yoga at a more moderate pace. It is all about the golden mean – which means the ideal moderate position between two extremes.
Aristotle talks about morality but the golden mean can be applied to anything really. So we all know intellectually that yeah that makes sense. But the bigger and most important question is how do we go about getting to the golden mean. Each to his own – for me I have to know what my extremes are before I can find my middle.
This applies to everything – let’s say you are trying to work on communication skills – for example: How to remind somebody of something they need to do? You will start from your default style which let’s say is a direct approach. You go to the person and tell him, “Hey you missed the deadline on this – Which part of my instruction was not clear, eh? or you tell him, “Hey, sorry to bother you but do you know by any chance if you have had a chance to think about the deadline that was due this afternoon?”
Both of these statements and any variations will depend on a lot of situations like culture (are you in UK or Amsterdam?) or person you are dealing with (sensitive or driver). But in either case you start from somewhere and then refine and adjust. If you don’t then you will never improve your style – you will be stuck in your ways. And let’s say you adjust/refine yourself ones and then situation changes and you need to do it again. If you fail to refine yourself then you are inflexible.
The point here is we find our balance by trial and error method. All the experiences we have in our life are a means for us to find the balance. In most cases we just fight the issue or run away from it instead of using it as a vehicle for self improvement or to find our balance.
Why do we have to find our balance? Its a good question – we can be just as we are and go about our daily lives. Just like anything else this is a choice we make. What style suits us? and are we ready to deal with the consequences. For me personally the only life I have known is of constant change – so if things do not change after a while it feels weird but for some change is foreign. And I guess there is no right or wrong – it depends on what kind of lifestyle you want and what’s your personal style. But in order to find the personal style we have to experience things and welcome all situations, people that occur in our life with open arms.
Be a scientist and observer at the same time!