Tag Archives: #betterlife

Do Not Throw It All Away.

During the ten days Vipassana Retreat, Goenka Ji tells the story of a little kid and his favourite dish. His mom makes his favourite dish – rice pudding and to add flavour she adds cardamom to it. The little kid sees the cardamom seeds, thinks they are small stones and refused to eat the dish. Mom tries to convince him that it will taste good, but the kid refuses. Mom gives in and takes the seeds away, and the kid happily eats the dish.

If his mom had not taken away the seeds, the kid would have thrown away the entire pudding which he loved. How many of us throw away the whole dish because of stones – which in reality add flavour?

As some of you may recall, I was a big fan of Bikram yoga (see my previous blog). Recently I happened to watch the documentary on Netflix about Bikram himself – titled, ‘Yoga, Guru, Predator.’ Even when I was taking the class, there was talk about how Bikram owns a fleet of Rolls Royce et al. It did not fit in the usual stereotype of a yoga teacher. I remember thinking that regardless of who Bikram is or what he does, the yoga itself – 26 postures with two breathing techniques is fantastic. It worked – for me. I left the classroom feeling refreshed and energized. I looked forward to going to yoga in the hot room. If I had not practised yoga but heard about Bikram and decided not to pursue it – I would be missing out on a beautiful experience. Akin to the little kid throwing away the entire dish because of perceived black stones.

If you do watch the documentary – one of the students says that the best advice she got was, ‘Separate the man from the teacher.’ Pretty logical, if you think about it. We all have ready-made ideas of how a Yoga teacher or a Guru or a Manager should be like. And if they do not fit the mould, we tend to discount what they see. But, is it possible that some things they say might be exactly we need even if it is coming from a person who does not fit our idea of ‘The Person.’? When the student is ready, the teacher appears. The teacher might not be what we expected, but the teaching is exactly what we need. If we are not careful enough, we might discard what we need because it is not offered it to in a medium that we had expected.

If you read about the qualities of Hitler – he was a teetotaller, vegetarian, a strict disciplinarian. – All good qualities, right? I am not suggesting that we all start doing what he is doing – the point I am trying to make is we have to look for what is useful for us and take it and have the wisdom to the leave the rest. Yes, it is wisdom.

What gems are you missing because you are discarding the entire dish?

The Sounds Of India

I landed in India after twenty-three hours of flight time. I enjoy long flights however gruelling it may seem – there seems to be something about being suspended in the air – which is very freeing. And I look forward to landing and coming out of the aeroplane. Not only my mind but also my body and other senses realize that I am home — the humid and hot air, that smell and most importantly, the sounds. People are speaking in an Indian accent – which is not an accent for me, technically speaking. It’s the sounds that fascinate me the most and this blog is dedicated to those familiar sounds.

Horns: You do not even have to get out of the airport to listen to the honking sounds. The small golf carts in the airport had a horn to them to get people to move aside.

Pressure Cooker: In India, the house is very close to each other as there are a lot of us who need to fit in a small space. One can always listen to the pressure cooker in some house or the other – lunch, dinner. Some homemaker is busy cooking.

Crows: I am not sure about other countries, but the crows in India are distinct. You can hear them during the day cawing, anywhere.

Dogs: There are so many stray dogs in India, and they seem to come to an understanding amongst themselves. They choose a street for them, and that’s their territory. God forbid – another dog or a new person comes to the road – they will bark their heads off until somebody comes out to see what the ruckus is all about.

Hawkers: Yes, street hawkers are still popular. They sell all sorts from curtains to carpets or even vegetables or will buy old newspapers from you. You will hear at least one a day.

Frogs/Insects: If it is the rainy season, you will hear the cacophony of the frogs, which is a consistent ringing.

Traffic: It does not matter where you live, but you will hear at least one scooter/car or even buses on the road near you. Or some truck is moving near you.

Neighbour’s TV: If you are careful enough, you might be able to catch a glimpse of what your neighbours are watching from at least one room in your house. It is hot enough that people leave at least one window open.

When I lived in Bombay, we lived near Bombay dyeing – mill which had a constant humming sound. And when it shut down on national holidays, I had a hard time sleeping. I saved the best for the last – Fans. Yes, all rooms in all houses have a fan, and they all like people have a unique personality which changes depending on their fan speed. Some squeak on lower speeds and some rattle at higher speeds but they all make a noise.

These noises or sounds help us remind that we are all connected and if nothing else that we all have to bear the same sounds together in the human predicament. And in this world of divisiveness, we need to look for more connections.

How are you finding connections with other humans?

In Your Head

As some of you know, we have the most gorgeous, most handsome, loveliest of all pups – Aki. His Instagram handle is #iamluckyaki. Some would say that he is a little spoiled and they would be right. He gets daily massages, owns the house. He goes to daycare a few days in the week. Adam and I always imagine what he and other doggy friends might talk about during the day.

Scenario 1: As they greet each other in the morning
Aki: Guess what guys, it is my birthday today. My humans gave four beautiful chew toys. I was so tired that I slept off without even playing with them.
Dog 1: Wow, that is so cool. My parents bath me that day – can you imagine?
Dog 2: Well, I don’t even know if my humans know when my birthday is.

Scenario 2: During lunchtime
Aki: Man! I wish my humans gave me lunch like yours.
Dog 1: You think this is good. You should see what I get at the dinner table.
Dog 2: Yeah, the human cubs are the best – they share everything with me. By everything, I mean everything.

Scenario 3: As they leave
Aki: Remember, guys – behave as if you own the house and your humans will let you sleep in your bed.
Dog 1: Easy for you to say, I am not sure I can do that.
Dog 2: I am not even going to try – the human cub makes the plea on my behalf and works every night.

Adam and I are not the only ones who imagine these things. Movies like Cars, bolt, life in the days of pets are all prime examples of such thinking. Now, do you want to know what happens in a dog’s mind?

Oh! I am hungry, let’s eat. I smell something – is it coming from here? A dog peed here; I better pee over it. My human is back – maybe he will play with me. I need a belly massage; I am going to lie on my back. My paws need licking. I am tired. I need a nap. Nothing is going on – life is good.

They live in the moment without worrying about the past or the present. Dogs are content with what is. But, we humans see ourselves in everything and everyone. So, the chances that what you are thinking is what others are thinking about is rarely correct. What does this mean?

If you think that your friend does not care for you because she forgot to call you. Chances are she got stuck in traffic, her phone got stolen, or in the rare case, she did forget it is not because she did not care for you. We live in our head and make that a reality when the reality is always different.

Somebody told a monk once, ‘You are out of your mind.’ The monk said, ‘Thank you – it took years of practice.’ And that my friend is the key to everything. And like everything else, it starts with awareness.

Which story is your mind concocting now?

In Your Own World

I am an avid fan of Downton Abbey. For those of you who are not familiar with the show here is a quick synopsis.

The series, set in the fictional Yorkshire country estate of Downton Abbey between 1912 and 1926, depicts the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and their domestic servants in the post-Edwardian era—with the significant events in history affecting their lives and the British social hierarchy. Events depicted throughout the series include news of the sinking of the Titanic in the first series; the outbreak of the First World War, the Spanish influenza pandemic, and the Marconi scandal in the second series; the Irish War of Independence leading to the formation of the Irish Free State in the third series; the Teapot Dome scandal in the fourth series; and the British general election of 1923, the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, and the Beer Hall Putsch in the fifth series. The sixth and final series introduces the rise of the working class during the interwar period and hints at the eventual decline of the British aristocracy. And recently they have released a movie as well.

I love the British-ness of the show. Humour is just too good, especially Maggie Smith who plays the dowager – her lines are to die for, and I am sharing some of them with you

If you are looking for logic, I won’t look for it in the English upper class.
She sits on a swivel chair, and when asked if she would like to move, she responds – ‘I am a good sailor.’
When a dinner guest says that he can do the work on a weekend, she leans over to the guest next to her and says, ‘What’s a weekend?’

If you look at the show, it is nothing but a depiction of the daily life of the people upstairs and downstairs in that era. And the entire play takes place much inside the Abbey itself. Isn’t that fascinating? The lives of the people who live in the Abbey is enough to sustain an award-winning show for six seasons. I found myself wondering as a fan of the fantasy genre why do I find Downton Abbey so exciting – it is mostly set in the Abbey, no planets, no aliens just normal life.

The show pulls you in – before you know you want to know what happens in the lives of the people who live in Downton Abbey. And the Abbey becomes your whole world with characters in the Abbey creating season after season with their drama. Does this sound familiar?

Doesn’t it sound a lot like the lives you and I live? Extending our life stories by the dramas, we create with characters around us. What is scary is we have forgotten that this is just a show. And there is life outside of the show. We are so engrossed in our petty dramas of ‘She said this to me. He was rude to me. They did not want to go out to dinner with me; My Dog loves me.’ – There is no end to these stories.

It is time we raised our awareness and consciousness outside of the entertaining but albeit distracting dramas to Humanity as a race on this planet earth.

What dramas are you going to let go of?

Do We Trust Enough?

I recently signed up to be a Beta Tester for an online course ‘Employee Happiness’ created by an excellent friend of mine – Raj, McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin. Raj has also written a fantastic book along the same lines, ‘If you are so smart, why are you not happy?’

In his course, Raj talks about the famous wallet study where researchers spread wallets containing money in different parts of the world. The wallets also contained a clue to the owner’s identity so that they could be returned. What do you think was the percentage of the wallets returned? 10%, 20%, 30%?

Results were astonishing. A good 60%-80% of the wallets were returned. I found it surprising, growing up in cities like Mumbai, Delhi you are told to watch out for pickpockets – keep your bag close to you. To this day, I hold my bag with the zip facing towards me. 

The moral of the story is – People are more trustworthy than we believe them to be. The reason for this is negativity bias. When we were all cavemen and cavewomen, we needed to focus on the one thing that would go wrong as our lives depended on it literally. As Sandrine from the online course states – If there was an orange tree – we had to watch out for one tiger that might be lurking behind it. 

But, we don’t live in that world anymore, but we still operate on that negativity bias. We live our lives in fear of the 20% of that can go wrong instead of focusing on the 80% that is going right. Can you imagine the amount of stress that we go through? And we wonder why the divisiveness in the world is increasing?

The world now, more than ever needs more love – in any shape or form, regardless of sexual orientation, nationality, religion. Forget about these big dividers – even in our daily lives, in our office, in our teams, in our social circle – do we trust people? Do we think they are out to get us? Do we believe they will do what is best for everybody? 

I am sure a lot of us are thinking – it would be stupid for me to trust that my colleagues at work want the best for me. Now, think about the wallet study. Can we afford to trust others a little bit more? Even 5%-10% more would make a huge difference. It is time we start doing this if we want humanity to survive happily for future generations. It is all in our heads. It is time we broke the conditioning of our primal mind and evolved to a new level of consciousness. It starts with us, each one of us can contribute to it. Let’s start from a place of trust, give each other benefit of the doubt, and we will be pleasantly surprised – at least 80% of the time.

How will you play your part in increasing the trust in the world?

Are You Listening?

When I was in London, there was one topic that would come in almost every conversation – Greta Thunberg. Who is she you ask? She is a 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden. She is fighting for a normal life for her generation and the generations after hers. She wants the planet to be alive when she is in her prime. Is that too much to ask? Check out her Wikipedia page – at the very least to get to know her. It is her solo strike that resulted in millions of young students striking this year. 

I feel ashamed that I have contributed to climate change – I am guilty of trying to look away from the climate change because selfishly I knew I wouldn’t be alive. Greta’s talks make it hard to look away. And I understand that my level of connectedness and consciousness is not yet high enough to go to even carbon-neutral existence, but I have accepted my part in it. And awareness is the first step. The first step is to intellectualize it, and then it becomes a part of who you are. What am I going to do about it? This blog is one of the first steps. I know other ways to contribute will arise, I will be ready for them and hopefully have enough courage to act on them too. 

We are exploring solar panels, going fully electric, be more conscious about recycling, reducing plastic/paper bags usage, volunteer to plant trees/clean parks. These are some of the ideas – I will keep you all posted in blogs like this.

In one of her talks, she says, she does not understand why people ask her, ‘Why are you so passionate about climate change?’. For some reason, that statement hit hard. Imagine, you are on a boat, and it is sinking as there is a hole in the hull – and you are the only one on the ship who is baling water out. Imagine someone comes to you asking why are you so feverishly baling water out?

When I say the word – Long term planning, what comes to your mind? Five years, ten years, twenty-five years. In Japan, long term planning is a hundred years. Most of us live in a world where we are unable to look beyond the petty incident where your co-worker tried to undermine you, or a car driver cuts you off in the morning commute. Unless we rise beyond our petty personal problems, how can we even think (forget act) on what kind of planet are we (yes, each one of us) leaving behind for the next generations? 

What is sad about this is that we are the most evolved species on the planet. We are the first in line who are destroying it. Even a lowly cockroach lives within its carbon emission limits. We humans are not even aware of it. And even sadder is we refuse to take responsibility for it and instead desire after the next promotion, phone (me included)

The problem may seem significant, but each one of us has to start somewhere. Stop taking plastic bags, talk to a tree today, express gratitude to nature.

Will you play your part to do what is right?

Be Surprised

I was a little down when we were leaving London – it is almost a physical tug on my heart. It gets harder and harder to leave London, much like India. Such is life – and we ordered a Uber to get to the airport.

I got into the cab all prepared to dwell on the sombre feeling of despair as we edged towards the airport in grey London weather. And before I could fasten the seatbelt – Adam said, ‘Hey, look he has the new Prius.’ Adam and I drive Prius, which started as being a cost-saving option but now has become a way to reduce our carbon footprint. I was super excited to see the Prius dashboard and how it could connect to the phone so seamlessly. I expressed my joy in so many words and that got our driver Piotr (from Poland) to start the conversation. He even paused and reversed the car to show us all the features.

And then we got talking – first about how easy it is to be a Uber driver in the US when compared to the UK. Being MBA students, we ended up doing a back of the envelope math on how much a Uber driver will have to earn in the UK to break even. And then the conversation drifted to how he goes home to Poland, and with all the relative hopping, he feels like he needs a vacation when he comes back to London. How expensive it is to live in London but he cannot go back to Poland because his kids are English. We spoke about driverless cars, insurance, Brexit, climate change and before we knew it, we were at the airport.

And I enjoyed the conversation – the conversation was no different from what I would have with any other dear friend of mine from London over tea. The topics – home, longing for home but not being able to go, climate change, Brexit, voyages were all something that I relate it. Mind you; this was the conversation I had with my Uber driver. How often does this happen?

London as a city invites people or rather sculpts people into this mould because the city encourages discussion, openness. Once you cross the local – petty personal problems – then we can see that there are bigger things in play. The diversity in London makes us look beyond borders. What is the point in fighting over a silly line which we call a country border when the planet might not even survive in fifty years? What is the point in investing millions of dollars in the new technology when we will be having a bottle bath in a few decades? And we don’t even use 10% of the technology we have today – do we use our iPhones and Androids to their full capacity. We all have more computing power in our wristwatches these days but do we understand our carbon footprint on this planet?

This blog took its meandering path from a lovely conversation to awareness of our planet – making the title of this blog apt.

How are you going to surprise yourself?

Home Away From Home

I have talked about this topic in a few of my previous blogs. But every time I am in London, I am reminded of my global nomadic tribe despite living in Columbus. I cannot deny the almost visceral feeling that I am home while in London. Every fibre of my being relaxes knowing it has arrived – what is it about London that makes me feel at home.

Well, partly, it has nothing to do with London. It is the fact that I have moved around so much that I feel at home only when I don’t belong anywhere. And where else in the world would that be possible except in London.

When you land in London – you are welcomed in a dozen languages at the airport itself. You only have to step outside to hear all the multitude of languages that are being spoken around you. If you were blindfolded and dropped in London, you wouldn’t be able to identify you were in London just by listing to the languages around you. Different accents, Different looks, Different nationalities – THAT IS HOME for me.

I have walked on the streets of London for long enough to make them my home. The pure nostalgia of walking down the old paths and hanging out at the old haunts – makes me feel like I could go back to my old flat in Cleveland street and be back in my good old London days.

Another aspect of London is the proximity to Europe. This time in less than seven days I had visited Paris (for a day) and Spain (for the weekend). The pure joy of listening to french in the day and come back home to the Italian-English accent of the Uber driver in London feels home to me. Because honestly, that’s how I grew up in London, trips every weekend. Within 3 hours you can immerse yourself in the Spanish culture, eating dinner for three hours and have a nice long siesta and then be back in London for work.

And it is always nice to know that I haven’t lost touch with the ‘Things Londoners Do’ – get irritated at people who stand at the left side of the escalators. I had just gotten off the airport, and I was back in the element – mentally willing the tourists in front of me to shift to the right side so that I could zip down the escalators. The way a true Londoner sidesteps around the tourists, politely smiling at their awes. I used to work at British Telecom, conveniently located in st. Pauls – joke around the office was that we were probably in a large number of photos around the world than in our family albums.

London welcomes diversity with open arms and love. That is what this world needs right now – not divisiveness of Brexit or not – but pure love which you cannot take out of London. I am grateful for the fact that you can take a Londoner out of London but not London out of them.

How Do I Look?

I have an 11-month-old niece. She is a fascinating creature. She makes me a question and re-think about how I view the world and my mental models around it.

In India, we have a few rituals/customs that have a forgotten significance to them. And a couple of them are piercing kids’ ears regardless of whether they are a boy or a girl. And other is to shave their head and offer the hair to your favourite god or goddess.

My niece is an Australian citizen, so she was about six months old when she got ears pierced and head shaved in India. She expressed her displeasure through crying and screaming but soon after the ordeal was over she was back to her usual self with no recollection of it ever happened.

My niece did not give it a second thought. No questions about how she looked? Will the earring go with her attire? What will people think of her shaven head? Will the hair grow back normally after that? How long will it take for the hair to grow? When can she change her earrings?

Can you imagine doing this as an adult? To begin with, we would have pondered over the decision umpteen times. We would do tons of research beforehand, even read reviews to ensure that we find the right Barber or the Jeweller. It would take us months or years or a lifetime to forget what we did and move one. Even if moved on this would have left a lasting impression on us.

Shaving one’s head, especially if you are a female can leave an impression not only on you but on others around you as well. Ear piercing is more common nowadays, and it is gaining popularity amongst men as well.

At what point in our lives does the identity arise? When do we start concerning ourselves with the way we look, and we start defining who we are with how we look? And more importantly, does it add any value? As we enter the teenager and the young adult phase of our lives, our obsession with our looks reaches a zenith, and then it tends to decline for some. And for some, it is inevitable that reduces the obsession about looks.

Media, Society and Marketing have a big hand to play in this obsession with looks. But we would be foolish to think that it is the sole reason. Our Ego tends to attach itself to the image of how we look, how we fit in, and that is pretty much what drives us to do what we do when it comes to looks.

Researchers once showed the photographs of our supermodels to a remote native tribe and asked the men if they would marry these gorgeous women. Their response was a unanimous NO. ‘She looks as if she is on her deathbed and will not be able to bear any children or do any housework’, was their candid response.

Is your self-identity attached to the way you look?

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?