Last Saturday our two year old pup – Aki decided he wanted to experience freedom. He wiggled free from his collar and went for an hour jaunt around the neighborhood. My husband, Adam trudged behind, coaxing Aki to come back. Aki is a shiba inu and they are known for their stubbornness so he kept going. Fortunately, Adam ran into another couple walking their dogs,he explained what happened and asked them to watch out for Aki if they see him. And Aki decided to say hello to their dogs and they managed to catch him. Adam and I are grateful to them for catching Aki.
It is easier for dog owners to relate to each other as they all go through similar experiences. Even though the dog owners do not explicitly share their experiences they can relate to each other. In some ways the community of Dog Owners just exists – nobody had to create it. I was telling a stranger in dog park about how Aki has become more rebellious since he turned two. He responded, “Maybe he is just being a teenager.” For somebody who does not own a dog this conversation might not make a lot of sense but the dog owners know that for them their dogs are just like children.
We all know the quote that “friends are the family we choose”, I believe that the same thing exists for communities or social circles as well. Lot of people ask me how is London different from Columbus. Personally, the main difference is that I felt at home in London and I never realized it until I left London. In London everybody is from outside, from somewhere else. Every other person is talking in their own language, different cuisines – even the airport in London has welcome in different languages. And that itself is a community of people who don’t belong anywhere – global nomadic community. Adam and I feel at home there because we don’t really belong anywhere too.
Can you imagine a world where we believe that humanity or rather the human condition itself is a community.Our existence on earth as a human being goes beyond the race, religion and other barriers we have created. We all face heartbreaks. We experience the same emotions of happiness, sadness, jealousy, envy. These are more powerful binding agents than what kind of dress you wear or language you speak. We all go through the same phases in life – birth, baby, kids, young adults, teenagers, adults, family, old age and death. Instead of finding commonness here we look for other factors like skin color, religious beliefs as something to bind us. Just because I was born in India and Adam in America does not mean we experience different anger or joy. It is the same.
I am an utopian – I believe in an ideal world. And I fail to understand why humanity as a community is termed as Utopian. When I share my views with people the usual response is – “In an ideal world – yes.” Humans understanding each other as a human and relating to each other as human is just table stakes not an ideal world. This is how we should all live – but then maybe this is what is Utopia.
I have a hard time listening to others. I am very good at listening… to myself – I am beginning to realize that I love the sound of my own voice. And recently with the change in my role as a people leader I find myself coming back to the listening more and more. Maybe, its because I am realizing that unless I learn to listen I won’t be efficient. And like everything else this is also an ability that can be learnt and it will take time.
I have given this matter – “Why I don’t Listen?” some serious thought.
REASON 1: I believe I know all the answers. I believe I am smarter than others and get to solution quicker. And maybe I can but that’s not the end – is it? I would never do something if somebody told me to do it – unless I realize that’s it something I want to do usually it means I have thought about it. So this applies to other people too. And it depends on the situation – if you know somebody is running towards fire then you will do your best to stop them and not listen to why they are trying to burn themselves. Most situations in life aren’t that dangerous or crucial.
REASON 2: I don’t have the time. I have other things to do and cannot waste my time listening to people talk. Really! That is not true. And irony is if I don’t slow down and listen now, then I will always be hurrying. If I have to make life easier for me then I have to slow down and listen to people.
REASON 3: If I am just listening then what value am I adding? I have to realize that listening to people, truly listening people is the greatest gift I can give them in this world. And it is definitely more valuable than talking.
Or sometimes I wonder if it is the fear of silence, un-comfortable feeling that arises when there is silence – does it mean I have to hold off a little longer. Give people some more time before wrapping it up or filling it in?
Talking takes up a lot of energy and most of what I talk is utter nonsense. Just to fill the space. There is a very little part of what I say during the day that really has to be said. Rest of the time I am just trying to prove how smart and important I am. Now – that has its own place but not all the time. So, even though I know all this then why is it so hard for me to listen? Because I forget, and old habits die hard. But all great journeys begin with one step. And I set the intent to listen every day. Even I fail to do that the intention is there and that is the first step.
Why do I feel it is important to listen? Because I feel it and at this point in my life it is something that I need to learn. Like my dad had said – “I am trying to increase my listening capacity.” He and my husband, Adam would know as they listen to me all the time. I am grateful for that.
I am on a journey and hopefully I am at a different station when we talk about this topic next.
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.
In our recent trip to London I could not help but wonder on how different my mind and body react to being in London. The tall buildings – crowds of people around you – the buzz of the tubes, buses which you do not notice anymore. I automatically start to walk fast, whiz through the tubes with oyster card. It’s like my body relaxes and my mind feels safe.
I feel safe and at home amongst the tall buildings and the crowds. It is amongst crowds that I truly am myself because no one is watching but I feel connected. It is ironic but you have to know the rhythm of the city before you can connect to it. Cities have a rhythm of their own – it’s like a drum beat, once you know the beat you are good until then it feels very unfriendly and foreign. The connection in the city is not very obvious – slap on the back type connection. This type of connection goes beyond the ‘How are you? and the weather talk.” These are built in by the common experiences of living in a city – the waiting for the tubes, the annoying way the tourists stand on the right had side of escalators, London weather, the times when you catch another stranger’s eye in the tube and share a silent smile over something funny.
Before I left for London somebody asked me, “So, when you come back will you have a British accent?” I laughed and said,”No, nobody British lives in London.” The following is a picture I took one day in tube – this is what I mean.
Everybody is from outside so you don’t feel out of place. Now of course this is true for people who have led a urban nomadic life – by that I mean never stayed in one place forever. In my narrow view of the world there are two kinds of people one who travel [Like Live in different cities not just tourist] and one who don’t. And neither is good or bad – it is what lifestyle suits you. But they both are a world apart in every way you can think of.
In someways it is the difference between lonely and alone. When you are in a city you are alone but lonely. And that is a huge difference. Being alone is a state of being and Being lonely is a state of mind. And I am just talking about my experience here – I am sure for others it doesn’t matter where they live. We all came alone into the world and we will go alone out of the world too. Whatever happens in the middle is only a journey which we all travel inner-ly, it does not matter whether we have companions or not.
We are like an outsider for our inner self who is traveling alone in this journey called Life.
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.”
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!
In one of my previous blogs I had talked about the 10 Paramis or Virtues. Today I want to talk about one of them which is
6. Khanti: Patience
May I ever be patient.
May I be able to bear and forbear the wrongs of others.
May I ever be tolerant and see the good and beautiful in all.
Like everything else this also has many layers to it. First stage is trying to get over the fact that it doesn’t matter if I think the other party is wrong or right – focus is on me being able to bear it and be calm about it. Second stage is just the limits to which you can bear it – like my previous blog about bending in the wind. If you are working to develop this parami then with every such incident in your life you bend a little bit more before you snap right back up. And like all great things in life this takes practice too. The more you practice the more you will be able to bend without breaking or snapping up.
Forbearance or self-control is the ability to exercise restraint, to stay in balance. It is disciplining yourself to be measured and temperate in your response to trying circumstances. It is being patient and even keeled while enduring hardships. It is having the ability to constrain your own worst impulses and allowing thoughtful, wiser aspects of yourself to govern what you say and do.
Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should. Forbearance protects us against doing harm on impulse in the throes of anger or fear. Since so much of virtue is about finding a balance point between two kinds of excess, forbearance helps to keep us close to the center of our better selves.
What does it mean for us in real life? If somebody is annoying you then a)you don’t get annoyed b)you are still at peace c)you are grateful to that person for helping you strengthen your practice of Khanti. This depends on what your overall goal is – let’s say your goal in life is to get retired at the age of 50 or another goal could be to the better version of myself. How you approach a situation will depend on what goals you have? If all you care about is making money and retiring early then you will have a short-sighted approach. Where as if you want to be happy peaceful forever you will adopt a long term strategy of developing your patience.
It is possible that you can still practice patience with the goal of retiring early – the point is sometimes you have to revisit your ultimate goal to put this virtue into practice. These things take time and when the student is ready the teacher does appear. And also it depends on how important it is for your to develop this virtue? To reach to the point of ultimate patience is really long and every journey starts with small steps – it is only by taking one step a time then we complete out journey with Patience!