“It is easy to fight a war, but it’s the day to day life that wears us out.” Like all things that have something to teach us this quote stayed with me. The words might not be the same, but it does convey the message. It is easier to tackle a big crisis than with the minutiae of our daily life.
For example, it is easier to work towards the project deadline than to say no to chocolates. A big goal helps us focus our energies – it is so big that we find it hard to see anything else. It is difficult to deal with the smaller things that keep chipping away at our willpower because they slip under the radar. Oh! Its just one chocolate we say, but that tiny hole is enough to break the dam.
What is courage really? Courage is required for us to climb everest but courage is the following little things as well.
– Courage is not participating in gossip about a person at the workplace.
– Courage is refusing to join in the complaining about the state of the world.
– Courage is refusing to eat chocolates or junk food when offered to you.
– Courage is going for another lap in the pool when your mind is saying no, but your body is ready.
(It is good to take action too but the first step is to recognize the behavior and stop encouraging it.)
And like everything else in the world, the golden mean applies here too. There is no wisdom in pushing yourself so hard that you faint while running as opposed to stopping when your body tells you. It is a delicate balance that comes with awareness and experience.
It is a skill that can be learned and not something that people are just born with. Like strawberry beer, this is an acquired taste. Good news is this that we can learn this in the school of life. We don’t have to go to university and take on a student loan to learn how to be courageous.
As you go about your day be aware of your thoughts, sensations and most importantly what your inner voice is saying. Every time we suppress the inner voice that is asking us to be courageous there is a frission in our soul. Note that moment when the crack appears and next time instead of accelerating the break just stay silent. Next time your colleagues/family start talking about somebody behind his or her back dare to remain silent or just walk away. Be brave and say no to the temptation to join in. If you are not able to resist yourself, then make a mental note that you tried. Even this small act of awareness feeds the little courage inside of you. And some more actions of this kind will feed the courage until its ready to reveal itself and act. Show itself; it will – courage that is.
And if each of one of us minds his or her own business and focuses the energy internally on strengthening the inner muscle of courage the world will be whole with a few fewer fissures.
A bunch of us were talking about our holiday plans for the year-end. The person sitting on my left was telling me about how he and his wife had gone to Brussels and spoke to this young girl who was traveling Europe with just a backpack. And I responded with, “I didn’t like Brussels, as it was frigid and all that seemed worth seeing there was the Manneken Pis.”
Now, was there genuinely a need for me to respond? Did he ask me about my experience in Brussels? There are a lot of such situations where I respond unnecessarily. How many times in conversations with friends and family I have ignored what they are saying and just butted in with what I think is more important. Most of the time I am talking to myself even in a conversation. The intent with which I have a conversation is one to reply not to understand.
Why do I respond when there is no need? There are many reasons. Primarily, I believe it is my need to show that I know more – a little bit of ego. Since I live in Columbus, I think I need to prove that I don’t belong to Columbus. Secondly, it is just lack of listening. I am not hearing, genuinely listening to what the other person is saying. Lastly, its because I am not intentional in my discussions. I am not sure myself on what the purpose of the conversation is and what my role is? Are they looking to pass the time, seeking advice, share good news or just need somebody to listen.
What are the few ways I can change this attitude?
1. Set the intention: If I even thought for a few seconds in any conversation about what my role is in the conversation it will be a lot better. If I am overtly aware that the other person is just filling their time, then I can focus my energies elsewhere. Or, If I determine that my purpose in this conversation is to set direction then I can respond accordingly.
2. Be Selfish: Dalai Lama said, “When you talk, you just repeat what you know. If you listen then you might actually learn something new.” Next time take the learning approach to the conversations.
3. Take small steps: If I decide to do the above in all my conversations, I will be exhausted. I might end up doing more harm with no progress. The next baby step is to start with one or two conversations a day and then build on that.
Silence is also an acceptable response and most of the times a better one.
I recently attended a CPM alumni retreat in London. And it has been a decade since I took the course first at London Business School. In the first class Prof. Rao invited us speak about what we want from the class. And at that time I was at crossroads in my life journey – on how I want to live my life. I asked – “I would like to know by the end of the course what choice should I make?” And prof. replied, “Well, I am not sure if you will find answers but you will definitely have more questions.”
That answer did leave me perplexed because I believed that all things should have an answer – a very clear, direct, black and white answer. And CPM started me on a spiritual journey and I haven’t looked back since then. I started doing yoga, meditating seriously, hanging out with the likes of Eckhart Tolle, Ramana Maharishi and recently I discovered Michael Singer. And ten years have gone by and I meet people who are starting on the journey. I find that my language has changed since I started and sometimes I am not able to relate at that level. And I discussed this with prof. and he said, “Of course, that would be the case because the person who took the course first time does not exist anymore.”
That was that – as simple as that. And it is true isn’t it, all of us are no longer that person anymore and that is how nature intended – change is constant after all. But some of use refuse to let our old selves go and we hang on to them and wonder why we are not evolving.
It’s like you had a tiff with somebody ten years ago and you decided you are going to remember the hurt forever and in some cases we even say, “I will remember this for seven lifetimes.” Well, have fun hanging on to the hurt that was probably caused by some misunderstanding on your part. This is just one example of how we do not let ourselves go. Yes, we hang on these bits and add to the building blocks of our prison.
Our existence on earth is not a sprint its a marathon and you have no way of figuring out who started out when. But, if you believe that you have evolved then you act as a guidepost for other people who are on the same track like how people ahead of you did for you. All the people in your life, all the interactions you have are sign posts to guide you on your journey. It doesn’t matter whether you liked them or not. For example, you are on your way from A to B and a signpost points to the left and says B <-- This way. But you decide to go forward because you don't like the color of the signpost. It doesn't matter what the color is - what matters is the direction on it.
That person does not exist anymore – it is really powerful to know that at many different layers.
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.
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!
At a CPM reunions, one of my friends suggested the idea of a improv – one of the first things he said is that you have to start with an Yes. I found that exercise very difficult because it meant I needed to put the BIG “I” behind and go with the flow. It was not easy for me to just accept what the person in front of me was saying and build on it – I wanted to show my smartness by contradicting or trying to prove I was right.. It didn’t come easy to me.
I remember my first course as a server in Vipassana at London. I had sat three courses and the feeling to serve arose in me – as you know Vipassana courses are all volunteer led. Many people had served me when I sat my three course and now it was my time to give back. I showed up at the door and remember saying “I am here to serve.” Those words made a difference to me – I was ready to put the I behind and serve. And I ended up serving as a course manager – someone who is the conduit between students and the staff/teachers etc. And one of the rules of conduct includes that we don’t give advice – we only listen and direct as needed to staff/teachers. And we also served the teachers. I found myself saying yes at the beginning of every sentence – regardless of the what the question/ask from me was – my attitude was “Yes, I am here to serve.” It was very helpful to live in a space where I put others in front of me. I learnt a lot in that course both knowingly and unknowingly.
I came back and found that my daily practice has been established – Dhamma does work.
Coming back to real life there is so much power in saying yes to everything that happens, people asking you difficult questions/emails that need to be answered/swimming classes/dance classes – in short life. How many times have you resisted something and it has still happened? Why lose energy in resisting something when it is what is? Yes- means accepting life as it is regardless of your liking. Your likes/dislikes in essence don’t matter – what matters is what needs to be done and doing it.
In a gamble between life and you – I would place my bet on life and win 100%. Man proposes – God disposes. This does not mean if somebody asks you to harm yourself you say yes – no it means saying yes to the fact that this is what is happening and then reacting to it – but see here is the main difference you won’t be reacting, you will be acting if you have accepted the situation and a much better position to come from.
The more we show up with a Yes- with willingness to serve the more we are putting others in front of I. More we do that more the I flourishes – this is one of the paradoxes of life.
I remember when I moved to Columbus from London – it was an identity crisis of sorts. The first step was to recognize that my identity was tied to working as a Project Manager in British Telecom and having a MBA degree from London Business School. I identified myself with these two things without even realizing it in London. When I moved to Columbus nobody even knew British Telecom or London Business School – I even had somebody ask me what does an MBA stand for. That was the first time I realized that unknowingly I had created an identity for myself and was attached to it. And looking back I can see that it had taken me some effort to build my identity in London so it wasn’t easy to let it go. And let it go for what?
Moving to Columbus gave me the fresh start as I wasn’t encumbered by preconceived notions of what people thought about me. Let’s ignore the fact that the preconceived notions are in my head to begin with. Fresh Start – eh! that didn’t last long though.
I was driving back from work one day and my thoughts wandered to how I am different and have always been different. For example, I am a South Indian but I grew up in North – so really I didn’t fit in either places. [South India as different from North India like UK and Spain]. And then I joined the software engineering which at that time was still very much Male-centric world. And when I moved to US – again I was different, same in UK [Although London feels like home as everybody is from outside] And then I married someone out of my caste , first one from my community to go do an MBA,list continues…
The point being that this is the only life I know and hence I identify myself as being different. In fact, I would probably feel threatened if I was the same as others.
How am I different now? We (Adam and I) don’t drink. We don’t watch TV – we don’t even have cable. We do Meditation and Yoga. We love talking about well-being, self and being on the Journey. We don’t seem to be driven by materialistic desires as much. The usual small talk isn’t for us.
Then the question is – so is this better? Is this good that I am different and differ in the way stated above?
The short answer to that is NO. It doesn’t matter what identity I have – the key is to be aware that I have an identity. In the human predicament we have to play the role(s). The key is to know that you are playing a role and the role is not you. And we cannot get away from playing the roles as long as we are in the human predicament. We might as well as enjoy playing different roles and play them with gusto.
A role might be this perfect do-gooder who can do no wrong. Another role can be of a inspirational leader at office. Another role might be somebody is who is victim to everything that happens to them. Another role might be of a drug-addict. Another might be of a politician or in some cases even an enlightened Guru.
In essence it really doesn’t matter who we are – we are all one whether we truly realize it or not is a different question.