Tag Archives: #selfgrowth

Small Connections

While growing up at home in India, I was not very observant. But now that I am away and I come back – I see more and more. Like my parents make tea for the watchman and our maid everyday. My parents went to our neighbour’s wedding, who also happens to be the Ruby Fruits shop’ owner – shop across from where we live. (Street shops are more common than malls, still thankfully).

Yesterday, we smelled something burning outside. And today we found out that our building watchman had informed our neighbours that he saw a snake, so they decided to put all the dried leaves etc. together and burn them to prevent the snake from getting tempted.

Our neighbours know when my parents are away for a long time so that they can watch the house. They all know that I live in the US, and my brother lives in Sydney.

You cannot hide anything from the community. My parents decided to live in our ancestral house in the village for a month or so. And they would diligently go for a walk in the evening. After a week or so it was a frequent topic of discussion – people would ask, ‘Not going for a walk? or How was the walk?’

Communities are a reality for cities and villages in India. You end up forming a connection which starts off with small talk but eventually ends up being a little deeper than that.

Lives in India seem more intertwined naturally as the remnants of a reducing community culture still exist. These small gestures help us stay grounded in the fact that we are all humans going through the human predicament. We are not that different from each other despite what religion, leaders or sometimes even textbooks say.

Just because you go to a different place of god – does that make you a different human from me? Only because you live across a man-made boundary, does that make you any less human than me? If we genuinely interacted with other humans, we will realize that we all are not that different from each other. Unfortunately, the society we live in today does not encourage or provide opportunities for such interactions. In India, it still exists, but in lots of other countries people live inside their house and occasionally wave to their neighbours, or they don’t even know who their neighbours are. In contrast, my parents can tell you who are all our neighbours not only in our building complex but on the street we live as well.

Trust word as symbol in chrome chain

Social media and technology seem to be driving us towards a culture of divisiveness. We need to remember that we are connected at a fundamental level. We need to pro-actively indulge in activities that bring us together as a race so that we start from a place of trust and not from a place of mistrust. We tend to trust people less than we should because we believe the media and the news which tells us what is happening in 10% of the world – what about the 90% of the world which contains humans just like you and me.

How will you connect today?

Do Not Throw It All Away.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sounds Of India

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How are you finding connections with other humans?

In Your Head

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which story is your mind concocting now?

In Your Own World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What dramas are you going to let go of?

Empty Your Cup

Let’s start with a story this time

Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.

Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full and then kept on pouring. The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”

“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

This zen parable does not need any explanation. We are all guilty of it; well, most of us are. It is good to have opinions or ideas as they help us move. The views and the speculations give us the confidence to move forward. It is when they become ‘THE’ opinion that it prevents us from learning.

For example, let’s say I am trying on a new recipe which requires me to steam the potatoes. I do exactly as the recipe says and the dish turns out to be perfect. I make it when my friends come over; they compliment the meal. I have a strong opinion about how to best use potatoes in a dish. Now, my friend comes across, and she says it would be quicker to boil the potatoes than steam them. If I were open to learning, I would at least give it a try. There could be two outcomes – a) The potatoes are done faster, and the dish tastes the same or even better b) The potatoes are done quicker, but the recipe turns out to not so good.

If you are afraid of failure, the chances are you will not try a new technique. Being open to learning means that you have to embrace failure. And to do that, we have to make space for either teaching or failure. And as per the parable if we are full of ourselves, then we have no space. We will be stuck with something that worked for us without moving onto a better version.

There is no denying the fact that it is hard to accept that what worked so well for you in the past is no longer working for you; in fact, it might even be deemed harmful. Our attachment to our way of working is so powerful, and it is this attachment that causes us grief when we try to break it off.

The best way to handle this is to first, respect and honour what worked for you so long – the opinions you held were working. Second, be open to failure and learning – this is hard, the more you do it, the easier it gets. Third, do not beat yourself about it – there is nothing in this life that is worth beating yourself up about; you are just making it difficult for you to learn in the future. Easier said than done, I know.

Practice is the best teacher. Like everything else, it is all about building the muscle. To build the muscle, you have to exercise it as much as possible. You can start by failing in small matter like rolling your tongue, riding a bike without holding the handles, learn a new hobby etc.

What will you learn/fail to make space for new opinions?

Limited By Our Thoughts

Adam and I were discussing cartoon movies we have watched in the past like Cars, Toy Story, How to train your dragon, Kung Fu Panda and Up. The storyline for these movies except Up is primarily based on personification. Up is truly an outlier – ‘a little out of this world’, especially the relationship between the old guy and the young boy scout. Think back to the last book you read or the movie you watched. The plot usually revolves around our daily lives.

There is a book by Christopher Booker titled, ‘The Seven Basic Plots’ which says that there is only seven basic plot. Even the fantasy, Sci-fi movies revolve around these seven plots.

  • Overcoming the Monster.
  • Rags to Riches.
  • The Quest.
  • Voyage and Return.
  • Rebirth.
  • Comedy.
  • Tragedy.

Our imagination, thoughts, ideas, reality and ultimately, the world we live in is limited by what we know. Hopefully, it is dawning on most of us that the world we live in and the consciousness that exists needs an upgrade soon; otherwise, we will be obsolete. With global warming, climate change, increasing focus on genders – we have to do something fast before the universe decides to ignore this speck and continue on its journey.

A shift is happening in some pockets. It may seem very different from our recurring themes to date that our first reaction may be to reject it. For example, in Japan – Akihiko Kondo married his favourite cartoon character. Check out this story at this link in bbc.com . I am sure the people who read this article had a variety of responses ranging from appalled to excited to indifference. But what if this is what will take us to the next level – our next operating system upgrade. It is possible that in the future, a child being born from a mother’s womb becomes a rarity. Let’s face it – human beings are the only race on earth that is not in danger of getting extinct anytime soon. Maybe nature in collaboration with us is trying to help us save us from ourselves?

My favourite quote attributed to Einstein’s is: “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” The only time we ever genuinely transcend a problem is when we get new, fresh thinking about it. In other words, we experience a jump in consciousness. This is what is needed now. For this, it requires us to look past what is known and comfortable to us and embrace the new. Even if we are not able to embrace them right away, can we at least keep an open mind and see where it takes us. This leap of faith requires us to make a transition from our known ways of thinking of unique styles of existence which may be beyond imagination.

This requires us to look past our current biases around issues like LGBTQ, Eating meat, immigration, mine vs yours and so on. Unless we can move past these judgements based on the label and randomly drawn lines on the map, we will not be creating space for the change.

How will you create space in your life?

Distorted View

Montessori Mafia – is a nickname coined for the people like Google’s founders Larry Page and Sergei Brin, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, videogame pioneer Will Wright, and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, not to mention Julia Child and rapper Sean “P.Diddy” Combs. These are well-known people who have been to Montessori. Now, my eleven-year-old nephew also goes to Montessori. His response was, ‘You know, there are lots of other people who graduate from Montessori.’ That one statement puts it in perspective.

Similarly, let’s say you are an inspirational speaker; all your events are jam-packed. At one event, you spot some empty seats – and suddenly you are not a successful speaker. All those previous full house events that you spoke at are out of the window. It does not take a lot for us to switch our views even in the face of glaring evidence.

We all do this – in our personal lives, in professional lives, in small ways, in significant fundamental ways.

Recently, I read the book, ‘Brave New Work’ where he talks about how there was a rigorous process for a factory worker to get gloves because at some point somebody stole a box of gloves. We obsess so much over losing that one box of gloves that we forgot about all the 99% of the time when it worked well. We plan for exceptions, we plan for things not going well – but do not take into account what happens most of the times. For example, in the glove example – we want to penalize all the other workers because one worker decides to swizzle the system.

How much of our own lives do we plan around the one thing that has a tiny probability of happening? We had one bad experience talking to a stakeholder at work, and we prepare ourselves to deal with such situations for eternity. We conveniently forget about a dozen times in the past when we have had no issues. We are trying to protect ourselves – I understand but admit it, it is a distorted view.

It’s like it rained hard when you had a garden party once – so now you wear a raincoat to all the garden parties. Silly, right? But, sometimes that’s how we live our lives too. That one time we had a heartbreak – we let it dictate all our future relationships – in some cases, we take it with us to the grave.

We have to prepare ourselves when things do not go as planned but live our entire lives assuming things are not going to be that way is a little extreme. What can we do about it? If a situation is causing us to worry, then it might worth checking to see if I am planning for the 1% that will rarely happen or the 99% that usually happens. If we focus on 1% that does not go well – since we are focused on it – it becomes our life.

What are you focusing on these days?

It’s Not Worth It

At work, one of the peers has this annoying habit of forwarding emails that I have already received – and these emails are more of the provocative nature (focusing solely on issues or highlighting where things are not working). I used to respond to these emails. But, as things got hectic, I did not have the patience to do that, so I decided to delete such emails. Funnily, enough one of my team members mentioned the same thing, ‘Why does she/he keep sending emails? And it gets my mind racing.” I told her – “Ignore the emails – just delete it – it’s not the best use of your time.”

There was another time when I was worried about something at work, and one of my peers nonchalantly made a statement, ‘It’s not worth putting energy into.”

How many times in our lives do we spend an obscenely vast chunks of time spending emotional/mental (and sometimes even physical) energy on something tiny? It’s not worth it.

I cannot recall which book I was reading, but one of the statements in the book was, “You are a tiny speck in the universe, and nobody gives a shit about you.” All the things that we do to make ourselves feel important – at some level, they are meaningless.

How do we first identify that it’s not worth spending our energy on? One of the critical indicators could be – ‘Are you dealing with an exception or a regular occurrence?’ If it is an exception and happens once every five years – not worth it. And if it does happen – then yeah, find a way to deal with it and move on. The thing about life that people forget is ‘Moving On’ refers to your thoughts and mental state as well – Keep Moving.

Another question could be, ‘What kind of an impact will this have in my life?’ Do you keep thinking about traffic, or do you think about your future partner? If it has no impact on your life – there is your answer. It seems ridiculously simple, but I find myself surprised at the inordinate amount of time I spend thinking about something that does not even occur in my life.

Ok, so now you can identify which questions are worth it and which are not? Now, how do you get your mind to move in the same direction? Training our minds is where most of us struggle. Most of the time, we are so unconscious that we do not even know what we are thinking. We are all puppets of our minds – Somebody says something to us, and off we go on a roundtrip around the world. We rarely ask ourselves – is my mind focusing on what I want it to think? Meditation is one way to train the mind – watch your thoughts, become aware of them and awareness will automatically bring it to your attention – when you can make a conscious choice about whether it’s worth it or not and move on.

What things are you spending time on which are not worth it?

State Of Things

During our trip to Turkey, we went to visit the ruins which were just outside the city. The guide took us to the ruins where the hospital had once stood, and he said, ‘This hospital was famous for not having a single patient die on them.’ We all looked at him expectantly and then said, ‘That’s because they never took on those patients who might die.’

For as long as humans exist – I can guarantee that if a system exists, we will know how to game it. How is it what the Turks did any different from the corporates of today who slightly modify their metrics to tell the story they want.

It makes you wonder – Have we been caught up so much in the gaming the system that we have lost sight of the fact that it is a system – not THE system. Sometimes I wonder that is why we lack imagination. Don’t agree with me. Let’s journey through history to see the standard plot lines.

  • Kings occupied other countries and waged war. (This is a cyclical process)
  • World War 1
  • World War 2
  • Even now, the squabbling of the territory continues like Palestine/Kashmir…
    If you think the story will change in the future – think again. Aliens and planets will replace people and Places in the above examples. It’s like we don’t know anything else except fighting for land and amassing power. These are the stories that continue throughout the history of humankind and will continue to dominate the future too unless something changes.

The question that arises now is why change? To understand the answer take a look at the state of your country, the world. Are we in a better place than when we started – no, in fact, we are regressing at such a rapid rate that at some point we might not exist at all. Life on earth might be better off if you took humans away.

Why haven’t we changed? Because we are focused on playing the game that we have become the character and forgotten that it’s just a game. We are so focused on getting through the daily grind of our lives that we seldom stop to wonder if there is any point to the daily grind? So many of our societal models are outdated, like the entire production floor in factories. Our education system, our offices, even our traffic lights are designed to support the mindless thinking required from a factory worker. There was a time when that was needed. But in today’s day and age, we need self-managed, innovative, creative people.

In schools, kids are expected to sit at their desks quietly for five to six hours a day – which kid can do that, but this is all training so that when you grow up, you can go and do this in a factory. If you look around, you will see a lot of examples where active questioning is discouraged. Things are changing like Montessori schools, remote offices – these changes are happening in small pockets. We need to embrace these and refine these models to arrive at a new system that will ensure a sustainable future – one that is vastly different from where we started.

How are you going to embrace change, today?