Have you ever been in a situation in your life where it felt like ‘THE End Of The World’? Like, nothing would be ever right in your life again. What will people think of you? How will you ever get out of bed and face life again?
And here you are, reading my blog hale and hearty with no recollection of that life-ending moment. I am reading the book, ‘Failing Forward’ by John Maxwell, where he says that failure is not an event. It is a journey, just like success. The first time you bombed your interview or sent a text that should have been deleted is not the end of the cliff but only a little event on a long journey. If we keep that perspective, then it gives us the perseverance to keep going and also changes our attitude towards failure to something that we know how to do better next time.
Growing up, it is not explained to children that failure is ok. In fact, as a kid, I remembered that I had the mental model that engineers and doctors have a decent life, poets and artists usually starve and have horrible things happen to them. I also had a similar model where if I did not do well in exams – there was nothing beyond that. It was in my mind the end of the world. I could not imagine a world beyond bad grades. I am sure some of it was from the movies or society or cultural upbringing. But, now that I am an adult, I do not have to deal with failure this way.
So what, if this relationship did not work out? So, what if the house I had my eyes set on did not come through? So, what if I never made it to the second round of interviews? So, what if I said some nasty things to my loved ones? So, what if I stopped exercising? Do not get me wrong I am not a proponent of anybody stopping exercising or getting their home deal. We have to remember that sometimes life does not work out the way we want it to because something else is planned that way and time will show us how. The keyword here is the time. If we live in a world where we do not keep the long term view in perspective, then everything seems catastrophic, but if we remind ourselves that life is a marathon and not a sprint, then we will be able to pick ourselves a lot quicker and move on. In fact, it is better to hurry up so that you can get to the next thing.
And maybe somewhere along the journey, we will all realize that life is all about the journey and not the outcome. And the journey as it happens with its own ups and downs. As Prof. Rao from Creativity and Personal Mastery says, ‘The purpose of washing dishes is not to clean dishes but to wash dishes.’ A very zen saying but very profound if you think about it a little more.
Are you washing dishes to clean them or wash them?
When I was a kid – the most persistent common thing I remember being told is to get good marks (grades) so that I could get a good university. So, all through my school, it was about getting admitted to a good college. Then it was getting good marks in college to get a good job. After the job, it was marriage and then after marriage; it was kids. It was somewhere after I got the job that I started questioning this race to something which I was not even sure I wanted or cared about.
Let’s talk about my food habits. I gave up chicken because I did not like its taste and did not want to eat it. Next on the list was fish, then eggs and then dairy and now more trending towards raw. (I am vegan, but I admit I have occasional bone broth and eggs – not because I crave them but because of the health and nutrition purposes). I remember having a conversation with Adam and what next for me on my food journey. Raw vegan seemed to be it – the end of the marathon.
This morning, as I was running – my mind wandered to being a woman and my need for a routine. As a woman, we have our monthly cycles that whether we like it or not dictate how we feel and our mood. And as somebody who thrives on routine sometimes the routine comes into conflict with my body rhythms and natural cycle. The next step on this journey is being aware of my body needs and acting in accordance with that and not to my self-imposed habits. This is scary for me because it means I cannot plan, but this is the next step. Vipassana, the meditation practice I have is also about constant awareness of the change and sensations. And I believe this is where my food journey is also taking me – all roads lead to Rome.
Plans are useless; planning is everything. This is what I am realizing. It’s the planning that helps me prepare for what happens not the actual plan. On that day who know what happens but if I am not worried about sticking to the plan but be present to what arises from all the planning I am prepared.
Life is similar in that way, all your life you are planning not for the plan to come true but being prepared for what life throws your way. The human conditioning deems it a failure if you do not achieve your project – you are rewarded for the outcome not for the journey. The journey is what matters the most, and it is what makes us who we are. Winning the award or the first prize does not make you who you are – it is what went into winning the award. The discipline, the hard work, patience, managing self-talk is what makes the person, the character.
This blog seems all over the place but at the same time very apt – does it matter if I have a point?
I am not talking about your physical location like home, town or state but the one place where you are present constantly – you never leave that place even for a second: Your Mind.
What comes to your mind when you listen to this song?
What do you think of when you smell the scents of foods that your mom used to cook?
What do you think of when you see two friends giggling over something?
The above items trigger memories or lead our mind in specific directions. For me when I listen to the song I immediately think of the dance steps involved in the song, I also think of all the fun we have had in our class whenever we have done that song. The smile that comes on students faces when they realize that it is this song – I remember the joy we shared when we all watched the movie. It takes me a to a happy place.
Now, it is possible that the same song might take me to a different place. It might remind me of a friendship that no longer exists; it might recall my breakups (a scene in the movie). In this case, it is taking me to a not so happy place.
Do we have a choice in where our mind takes us? One would like to think so.
Let’s talk about the memories that we already have, the ones created in the past. In most cases, we flow where they take us. When the memories were created, we had limited understanding of the world around us (This is based on the assumption that you mature every year – as you grow). Let’s say as a kid your best friend who loved potato fries left you for another friend. And it left such an impact on you that you have hated potato fries since then.
At that time it was so painful that you were trying to come to terms with what you labeled “betrayal” from your best friend. To ask you to interpret the situations in different ways at that time would be an almost impossible task. But, now after all these years when the topic of that friend pops up in a conversation – what comes to your mind? The betrayal or the moments that you enjoyed as a best friend. Our mind is very tricky and unfortunately has been conditioned to focus on the one moment of betrayal and ignore all the other beautiful moments. One way to change this is to focus on the good memories and ignore the betrayal.
You are the director of your movie, and you get to choose what shots you keep and which shots you discard – but the trick is we forget that we are the director – we identify so strongly with that one scene of betrayal that its the only that exists for us. The first step is to acknowledge that there are lots of moments and accept that I have a choice.
Next time your mind decides to take you on a tragic journey – change the channel – live the life you wanted – it is as simple as this.>
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.