Tag Archives: Good Living

Bend with the wind

As some of you know I am a big time bookworm – fantasy being my favorite genre.I devour good books like there is no tomorrow. I recently read the Demon Cycle series by Peter V.Brett. Reason I like fantasy books is because they all have a spiritual, self-help base to them. The characters have to be grounded in something for them to do things which are beyond reality. So in this book they talked about the concept of being like a palm tree and bending with the wind. Letting it all go through you and opposed to blocking it. I love the idea.

I knew in the back of my mind that this happened with palm trees but after reading this I read up a bit more on Palm Trees. They are unique because they can bend all the way down to the ground without bending because of the way they are built internally and not only that it makes them stronger as their roots go further and become more stronger.

It sounds very practical too – “wind is coming and it is strong” what is point in standing. Wind doesn’t care and neither does anybody else. And it only makes the palm tree even stronger. But if the palm tree decided that it is going to show the wind how strong it is – it gets a deluded picture in its head that it is THE palm tree and is very important than all other trees and in order to maintain its respect, esteem it has to stand up to the wind – it will break.

We all do the same at some level for the other – we have delusions about our own grandeur, our own importance or sometimes it is very important for us to be right or be smarter than the rest. Keep in mind these are all delusions that we build in our head and hold them as gospels of the truth as time goes by.

There is nothing great about BEING RIGHT – right and wrong have been changing since the beginning of the world. At one point slavery was accepted now it is frowned upon. Our ancestors lived polygamous life and now for most cases it is frowned upon too. So who is to say that what you think is right today will still be right few years down the line. Why put so much energy into proving you are right or sticking up in the wind when you can strengthen yourself by bending.

Let’s say you are at a stop light in your car and it is green for you. But you can see another car coming at you with full speed. Now should you do the right thing and forge ahead – NO! because then you will be dead right. It is very clear in the car example but in our day to day interactions it is hard to notice. It is ok to do what you think is right but it is not the ultimate goal – is your ultimate goal to be right or is it to reach your final destination in a joyous manner.

Long Term – Strategy

In my current role I have to manage a team of people – mostly project managers. And every month we have a strategic meeting and some kind of a fun activity either within ourselves or with other teams we work with. If I chair a meeting it has to be fun at least for me – otherwise why would I have a meeting that I myself don’t want to attend. And at the same time they have to be useful.

Brainstorm Ideas why meeting should be over

What do I in my meetings – in the strategic meeting every month we go over Road-map/NW news/Continuous improvement and about 30% of the meeting is dedicated to watching a movie – a soft skill one, like this time we watched the four agreements summary a) Be impeccable with your word b)Don’t take it personally 3)Don’t make assumptions 4) Do your best.

And for our fun activity we met with the scrum masters in our area and played “What color you are game?” and a trivia about each person.

I never thought about why I do what I do – until one of my team members made a comment that I seem to like these sort of things. It is true – I love the people aspect of it, it is very important for people to know each other as opposed to just coming to work. Whether we realize it not workplace is a social place for us where we spend most of our lives.

But there is another reason why I invest in people. Because in my mind it is the long term strategy. All of us our acutely aware of how hard it is to bring change in ourselves. We also know that unless we change ourselves there is no long term improvement. Changes will happen at the superficial level or will not be full committed too and we revert back to our old ways of working. Otherwise – we would all lose weight by just reading the book, right? So in my mind unless we bring about change in people themselves there is no long term improvement or change.

And I am also aware that I cannot change people but what I can do is create an environment where it is easy for them to be a)aware of the change b)make it easy to adapt to the change. Awareness is a big step in itself.

For example: as a project manager we work with a lot of people and different kinds of people. Not only in rank but also in styles. And as a project manager your maim aim is project delivery. And at the end of the day a project manager is a human being who comes in with her own views too. With all these it is very easy to assume that a team member exists solely to make your life miserable – and when we are so busy with other things this story subconsciously gets embedded in our mind and we start behaving that way. But, if we realize that he is also looking out for the project success we will approach the whole thing differently.

So the key thing is here is not telling the project manager that she should work on her “Stakeholder Management” or “Team Building” skills but shine light on the fact that she may have made an assumption about the team member. And if you know something about that person like they might have the same hobby as with you – you are less likely to make the assumptions.

So this is my long term strategy at work and have fun while you are at it.

Habits – inner change

Let’s say you have a poisonous tree in your backyard – it is infected by some insect which is causing it to be poisonous. The infection is in the roots of the tree. You keep cutting the tree down and telling yourself that the problem is solved. At a superficial level it does look like as if the problem has gone away. But after sometime the tree grows again and the cycle starts again.

Imagine if the cycle kept getting repeated – you are getting frustrated because you have cut down the tree so many times but still it keeps rearing its ugly head. You read a lots of books, you try a lots of pesticides but nothing is working the tree still keeps growing.

I am sure at this point you are thinking – ‘Duh! the infection is in the roots until we treat the roots the problem will not go away’

Guess what this is what we do with ourselves too:
Let’s say you want to lose weight – you go on fad diets, you go on different diets, you stop eating sugar/gluten/dairy, you try exercising but the weight keeps coming back.
Let’s say you want to meditate every day – you listen to meditation tapes, you look for group sits, you look for courses, you manage to sit for an hour for a week, then 30 minutes and then you are back to not meditating.
List is endless – isn’t it and the reason is the same we are not tackling the problem at the root level.

For simplicity and due to my own limited knowledge let’s say there are two kinds of minds – conscious mind which we will call intellect and the unconscious mind which we will call subconscious.

The so-called subconscious mind is not unconscious – in fact it keeps reacting all the time. Reacting to what? Whenever the outside world comes in contact with one of our sense doors (eyes/ears/nose/tongue/skin/mind) then a part of our mind evaluates the sensation and passes judgement [I like it or I don’t like it] and then the subconscious mind reacts accordingly with attachment or aversion. For example, you see a successful person and you have feelings of aversion because your past experiences recall unpleasant sensations when interacting with such people or if you see a cheesecake you desire it because your past experiences recall pleasant sensations on eating it.

At the intellectual level we all know very well – that the problem is not in the successful person or in the cheesecake, it is within me. And you work at the intellectual level and it calms down and it’s good – no doubt about it. It’s good to cut down the tree atleast if you cannot reach the roots yet. But working at the intellectual level does not solve the problem.

We have to bring awareness to our subconscious mind that the sensations are neither pleasant or unpleasant – it’s only judgement that is passed when we have a contact at our sense doors. And another aspect of it that the sensations are temporary – the desire to eat cheesecake is not eternal, it comes and goes.

Vipassana Meditation teaches us how to get to the root level and work at that level bringing profound and long lasting changes. I am very grateful to Buddha who discovered the technique, Webu Saydaw-U Ba Kin for continuing it and Goenka ji to bringing it to India.

Role Play

Imagine that a friend of yours has sent you a gift via Fedex. The Fedex guy rings the bell and
SCENE 1: You accept the packet and thank the guy.
SCENE 2: You invite him in, wash his feet, garland him, offer him the best sweets – do whatever he wants so that he will bring you more packets.
You might be laughing at scene 2 but guess what we all do the same.

Imagine your school/university – the students suck up to the professor so that they can better grades – they read the books he recommends, they laugh at all his jokes, they go to all his parties, they tell him how great he is…
Imagine your office – where the associates defer to their manager, assume he is right, don’t push back because he is their boss…

Now all these scenarios are like scene 2 – all of us including the professor/manager are like Fedex guys, they are just here to deliver the message – its the friend aka universe that you need to be concerned with.
This is where the quote “You will get what you deserve or rightfully yours” comes from.

Nobody can stop you from getting the grades/promotion if universe has that planned for you.Sometimes we forget that it is the universe that we are dealing with here and not the messengers.

Let’s look at it from a Fedex guy’s perspective:
SCENE 1: Fedex guy gives you the package – takes your sign and leaves.
SCENE 2: Fedex guy expect you to bow down to him three times/give him rice pudding or millions of dollars to deliver the package.
Again if you think scene 2 is silly – think back on times in your life where you have expected others to behave a certain way with you because you have forgotten that you are just a messenger – like expect your students to address you as Dr/Sir.

Remember the universe will deliver the gift/lesson to you regardless of whether the Fedex guy delivers it to you or not. If we find ourselves in situation where we have mistaken our role as a professor/manager to be more than the messenger then it’s going to be a steep hill for the self-realization goal. All it does is to puff up your ego, nothing else.

It is easy to forget that you are only the messenger when students tells you how great you are as a professor or if your articles get published in the journal of your course gets selected as the best course in the school.

If you are the receiver then remember that everybody around is only a messenger for the message that universe wants you to hear – what is important is the message and not the messenger.
And if you are the messenger then remember you are just a conduit for the universe messages – replace any self-aggrandizing thoughts with gratitude for the role that you can play.

We all play both the roles.

If others give you respect then just let is flow through you, don’t let it get to your head and the best way to do that is to keep in mind that you are a messenger. And if you are treating others like they have power over you then remember its the universe you are dealing with.

Let everything just flow through you – don’t be the blocker, be the passage.

Where you are.

As some of you know I have started learning swimming. I can swim now – except the breathing part. I still use a swimming snorkel but I am more comfortable in water and have more stamina. When I first started off I couldn’t even take 2 strokes and I was swimming next to little kids who could do laps. Let’s say instead of practicing I just stood their thinking about a) how good the kids are b) how I will never learn swimming – then I am actually just failing behind in my aim to swim. But that space where your mind spins stories is so enticing or rather so conditioned that we actually love to wallow in that space. We refuse to see where we are. Yes, whether you like it or not you make a choice to dwell and not take the next step.

This is why sometimes it feels as if we are stuck in a pattern and are not able to get out of it or any situation we get into it always comes down to the same thing. In fact, in some cases the stories we spin in our heads to avoid facing “where we are” has so many layers that we are light years from reality.Like in the swimming example if I start extrapolating it to the rest of the world and say everybody else can learn swimming, they can have a better life but look at me I cannot even swim – then this is further taking me away from the core – which is kick and move your hands in water.

It’s like the quote from Einstein

You have to be able to peel back the layers of onion, get rid of the baggage and see the reality as it is. And take an action – even a small step towards your goal counts. If I decide to just swim to the middle of the pool and just do it even if it means I stop after every stroke. It is a mixture of lot of things – will power, your desire (true desire) to get to the goal, your past experiences all contribute to it. But it doesn’t matter because you can only start from where you are. There is absolutely no point in comparing yourself to others or where they are – it’s a waste of energy and time. Another quote from Einstein here

Ramana Maharishi also said that the world will be a much better place if everybody minded their own business.If these thoughts did not exist then I would just swim – there is nothing stopping me from swimming.

We have to accept the fact that our past deeds in this lifetime or past lifetimes have created the circumstances in which we find ourselves today but the response to this situation is in our hands. We have to see the reality as it is, accept where we are and move from there. It’s not easy but hey this is life, this is you.

Vipassana in Pali literally means “to see things as they are”.

Yoga – musings

Growing up in India words like Gurus/Meditation/Yoga are white noise because a) they are so common- it’s like asking a fish what is water (we might not know what it really means but we know) b) there are a lot of charlatans and you are always wary when these words are mentioned.

I never had anything to do with yoga until I moved to London. It was in the Creativity and Personal Mastery class that one of the students mentioned Bikram Yoga. I was teaching assistant at that time. And in the class prof. had an exercise which was called ‘Public Commitment’ – it meant you made a public comment to share something you like with the class and do it with them like eating at your favorite restaurant, going to salsa class, hiking etc. Basically it was a way to do more of what you like and share it – thus adding emotional energy into it. One of the students said she wants to take interested people to Bikram Yoga.

To be honest I wasn’t that keen but as a teaching assistant I decided to go. I guess it did call to some part of me. As I am not the one for doing things if I don’t want to as my family/friends will confirm. So me, another student and her went to a class. We were in the last row and we did not faint. For those of you who are not familiar with Bikram Yoga – it is a 90 minute class – at 110 F – 13 postures done twice. It’s actually really good.

At that time Adam and I were doing the long distance relationship thing and I had a lot of time in my hand. So I decided to join Bikram Yoga and I got addicted. It definitely accelerated my inner journey. I did it every day for almost two years and I loved it. Infact my criteria for finding an apartment was that it should be walking distance from the studio. We did find one [Lovely place – 8 minutes from oxford street]. Point is I was obsessed and as my dad loves to say I left the golden mean -“the ideal moderate position between two extremes”

But it was too much – I had busted miles away from my mean. So, I remember waking up one day and telling Adam that maybe it’s a little too much , doing it every day. He gave me a look which said “Yeah, obviously.” So, I didn’t do yoga for 6 months. The pendulum has to swing both sides before it can find the center.

Then Adam mentioned about Ashtanga Yoga which is in some ways polar opposite of Bikram. This article describes it really well. For me Bikram was ambitious and competitive – type A, where as Ashtanga is do it at your own pace and there is no comparison – no mirrors in the room. It’s just you. I guess I had changed because we started going to Ashtanga and I have been doing it for 6 years now and don’t think about it twice. It is what it is.

I am not in a hurry to learn poses now – I am happy. The reason I do yoga is I feel happy, my body feels happy. And plan to do it till I die. And I am very grateful for all the teachers who have taught me as Yoga is one valuable gem which has been passed on from one generation to other.

And for inspiration check out the video of the 98-year old doing yoga.

V. Nanammal is a 97-year-old woman from Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu. Even at her advanced age, Nanammal practices the art of yoga, and what’s more, also teaches it to other enthusiasts.

The Need To Know

For a while I was into these quotes thing and I had picked up this greeting card at the yoga studio – it called out to me at that time.
“I beg you, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer…” (rainer maria rilke)

Basically he is saying that it doesn’t matter what the question/answer is as someday you will be living it. What matters is the NOW. That’s one take on it.

The reason I bring this quote is – we all have situations in our life where we have tried our best to make things happen and we fight for it with everything we have. And it doesn’t work out and we ask ourselves the question – why did it not happen? Why did he not like me? For me, it was my first love (if I can call it that). Since it has the word “First” in it, it is quite obvious I was really young at that time. And fortunately or unfortunately my parents had been a very good buffer between me and the rest of the world. And in my world I got what I wanted well the reasonable and the logical wants for sure. So when things did not go the way I wanted – it was a tough lesson. A lesson that I needed to learn. And once I got over the initial angst and drama of injustice I wondered why did this not happen?

And one of the lessons I learnt was that sometimes we have to learn it’s ok to live without knowing the answer and I might never know the answer. The answer really doesn’t matter except to our mind which loves creating stories/dramas. And as Steve Jobs said you can connect dots backwards or as the quote above says after a certain time it loses relevance.

I met somebody recently who was going through the same phase I went through at her age. And it got me thinking that at that age I spent countless nights staying up with my girlfriends analyzing every single move or exploring all the angles of the situation and now it’s not even a passing thought. Time does put things in perspective and it is all relative – if you have got a stone crushing your feet a tiny prick on your finger will go unnoticed.

And sometimes we are so intent on looking for the answer we want that we do not see all the different answers/choices we have. It’s like when one door closes we keep staring at it for so long that we do not see all the countless doors that open. The faster we let go faster we will move.

Stay Calm and Keep Moving without Knowing

Being Different – concept of Who Am I?

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.

Viriya – Effort

This blog follows the last one where I talk about the different ways in which we can accept or not accept other’s judgements/opinions.

In this blog I am going to talk about how to increase the “effort” factor in implementing the different ways. Before we get started let me explain what I mean by “effort – viriya”. If you recall in one of my blogs I talk about the Ten Perfections (Paramis)

Viriya: Energy
May I be energetic, vigorous and persevering.
May I strive diligently until I achieve my goal.
May I be fearless in facing dangers and courageously surmount all obstacles.
May I be able to serve others to the best of my ability.

Viriya in simple terms means Energy, that’s it. Pure and simple energy. Every time somebody tries to impose/project their own imperfections/shortcomings onto you, you need effort to not accept those gifts. You can always apply more effort until you reach the final stage.

There are many ways to work on developing Viriya. First of all you can do it anytime – literally anytime. Let’s say you are driving to work and your mind is busy as usual passing opinions. Every time you bring your awareness to sensations to breathing instead of the opinions you are increasing the effort factor – every little bit counts. Imagine how easy it is to do this. And every time you do this your effort factor increases.

Secondly, every time you interact with someone and they are gossiping or doing unwholesome deeds (to the extent you can determine this) then observe your sensations – re-double your efforts.

Thirdly, you can always use physical activity to train your mind – this might be helpful in the beginning stages. For example, if you run or if you swim then do that extra 5 minutes or the extra lap. Every time you do this you are working on the muscle.

This is a little different from will power because the desire to increase the effort has to come from within. Until then try to light the flame of effort. Once it’s lit then it will be hard to put out.

And another thing to keep in mind is that what matter is the right kind of effort – which in Vipassana means being aware of your sensations in everything that you do. If you are sitting/standing/sleeping or as you go about your daily activities be aware of sensations. These has the double advantage of a) working on your effort/sensations b) mindfulness in your day-today work.

A big part of this practice is to know whether you are tuned up or not. And this comes by practice. Let’s say there are a few drops of water on table and you use a cloth and it absorbs all the water. Let’s say there is a glass of water and you use the same cloth to soak it all up – it won’t work. It is s continuous cycle as your cloth grows the more water you can absorb. The more water you can absorb the more the cloth will grow until there is no water/cloth.

Similarly the effort factor will increase every time you use it, the more you use it the more effort factor will be until there is just you.

To Accept Or Not Accept

In the 10-day Vipassana courses Goenkaji tells us some stories during the discourses. The one below is similar to the one Goenkaji narrates during the course.

There once lived a great warrior. Though quite old, he still was able to defeat any challenger. His reputation extended far and wide throughout the land and many students gathered to study under him.

One day an infamous young warrior arrived at the village. He was determined to be the first man to defeat the great master. Along with his strength, he had an uncanny ability to spot and exploit any weakness in an opponent. He would wait for his opponent to make the first move, thus revealing a weakness, and then would strike with merciless force and lightning speed. No one had ever lasted with him in a match beyond the first move.

Much against the advice of his concerned students, the old master gladly accepted the young warrior’s challenge. As the two squared off for battle, the young warrior began to hurl insults at the old master. He threw dirt and spit in his face. For hours he verbally assaulted him with every curse and insult known to mankind. But the old warrior merely stood there motionless and calm. Finally, the young warrior exhausted himself. Knowing he was defeated, he left feeling shamed.

Somewhat disappointed that he did not fight the insolent youth, the students gathered around the old master and questioned him. “How could you endure such an indignity? How did you drive him away?”

“If someone comes to give you a gift and you do not receive it,” the master replied, “to whom does the gift belong?”

Now how does this apply to us? There are two aspects to this – one who is giving you the gift and the one is accepting the gift.

ONE GIVING THE GIFT: We are all making judgements – a part of human conditioning. Some people might think you are kind, some people might think you are rude, some might think you are beautiful and some might think you are ugly. All these opinions are correct – from the perspective of the people who are passing these judgements. These opinions and judgements are a reflection of themselves really! This is why they say that world is a mirror.

ONE ACCEPTING THE GIFT: We have a choice as to whether accept the gift or not. But most of the time we don’t even know we have accepted the gift. What does accepting the gift mean? Let’s say somebody says you are ugly – what do you do? Do you just listen to what’s being said and let is pass like moving clouds [Then you have not accepted the gift]. Or do you think about what the other person said , ruminate about it for hours and want to get back at the person or the world, do you want to shout at the top of your voice and let everybody know that you are not ugly [Then you have accepted the gift].

Want to know how not to accept the gift? Watch out for my next blog post.