Tag Archives: #selfhelp

Are you ready to fly and soar?

I watched a cartoon movie called Rio- about a domesticated macaw named Blu who goes to Rio from Minnesota to mate with a female named Jewel and produce more offsprings of his kind. 

Jewel is free-spirited and literally ‘wild’, and Blu does not even know how to fly. And in the climax, while saving Jewel’s life, he ends up flying accidentally. All his life Blu lived in a cage, never flew and then when he got a chance to spread his wings, he never looked back. 

Have you wondered how many of us, including you and me – are in Blu’s category? We live in our routine studded life where the unhappiness due to the ups and downs of life is considered normal. You did not get the promotion – of course, you are sad. You got the promotion – others are jealous. There is no perfect life situation, but we keep living life as if it is or even worse do our best to make it perfect. Remember, in a bet against the casino – Casino always wins just as Universe as the last word.

Our minds and ego love routine or control so much that they clip our wings and we forget that we can spread our wings and fly. Sometimes it is the external world that clips our wings – societal norms, peer pressure, movies, unrealistic expectations. But the Universe is benevolent, and it wants what’s best for us – to break free and spread our wings. And it keeps nudging us towards that goal – even if we keep resisting.

We see all the signs but ignore them because we cannot fly because we have never used our wings. If this is all sounding too abstract, let’s take an example. 

I did software engineering, and the belief that I had was that engineering and creativity do not go together. I grew up telling myself that I am not creative. And in Indian society, you do not make money with creativity – you need a real job. Sparks were there even then – I started writing stories when I was less than ten years old. Indian newspaper published my article about riots with the title – ‘Ingenuity of a child.’ My college published my sarcastic-humour article about our then prime minister. I was happy that it happened but never gave it any serious thought. 

It wasn’t until I took the creativity and personal mastery course that I let a small part of myself believe that I am creative. And when I did ‘The artist way‘ by Julia Cameron – I opened my wings tentatively. And since then I wrote three books and also ran a Bollywood Dance company. And if I hadn’t expressed my creativity, it would lead to a climax like Blu/Jewel. And that climax would have been more painful. Universe nudges you gently at first, and if you do not listen, it gives you a right slap that leaves your ear ringing. It is up to you which one you pay attention to!

And since then, I have met people who surprisingly are interested in writing a book. Once you spread your wings – others see themselves doing it too. 

Are you ready to spread your wings and soar?

What Matters Most?

When you read a book, do you wonder about the blank spaces around the words? Do you wonder about the blank pages on which the letters appear?

When you enter a room, do you think about the space in the room? When you use the furniture, do you think about the space in which it exists?

When you watch a film, are you aware of the screen on which it is playing? When you see the actors in the movie, do you realize that they are people?

Let’s bring it all home with a story. One of my friends got laid off from a toxic job and not the best fit for her. She was miserable in that role working long hours in a thankless role. When she told the news to her parents and in-laws, their reaction was, ‘Wow, that is amazing!’ and ‘Good riddance – such great news!’. My friend is a little upset about it even though she knows its the best direction for her.

Her parents and in-laws are happy because they care about my friend, not her life situation. They care about what matters most – the person behind the job, the blank space behind the words, the person playing the role.

Think about how much of our life we spend thinking about our life situation and not life itself. There is nothing wrong in thinking about a life situation, but we have to keep life in perspective. As a human society, we have become so life-situation centric that the real meaning of life is non-existent.

Why is the space in which it all exists so essential? Because it is the only constant – life situations will come and go. The little or big Me (ego) will grow bigger and then deflate itself. The entity we call ‘I’ will play many parts or actors in various plays. If we remember the space/entity, we will not identify ourselves with the actor or the life situation. That gives us breathing space to choose – to be aware that its all a play and we are all actors. It is not the essence of who we are.

If you knew that the life situation playing currently in your head where EGO is the main actor – ‘I am so busy’, ‘I will never get the promotion’, ‘COVID has ruined our lives’, is just that – plays, then will you be unhappy? We will play the role with gusto, knowing that it’s not who we are.

How do we keep in touch with space, person, and not identify with roles or thoughts? An easy way is to be in your body – if you are walking your dog, but your mind is thinking about work, what is real and what is fantasy? It is ok to think about the future or past as long as it is practical. Another way is to keep reminding yourself – ‘Is this a problem that is happening right now?’

Will you be aware of the blank pages or space next time? What about now?

Lost In Russian Dolls?

Have you ever seen a new-born baby? For the first six months or so they have no idea of who they are, they are not aware of their legs and arms. One of my nieces used to pull her hair as a baby and start crying – unable to tear her hand and stop the pain.

Babies live in the NOW – there is no concept of past/future or self/I. They do have minimal basic desires and wants like milk/sleep/food. They have no great desires or plans – a baby does not think when I drink milk twenty-four times a day I will become a millionaire or other ridiculous cravings/aversions that we tend to get as we grow up. For the baby, there is nothing except the present moment.

As we grow up, we get to know the mind-based concept of time. And with time comes the need to get somewhere, the desire to meet our plans or the aversion towards something happening. And we leave the present moment and start to live in the future and past. The conditioning becomes stronger.

Another thing that happens as we grow up is our sense of ME. We start creating a picture of who we are, what people should think about of me, what society should think of me? And we go about making that image to our liking. A baby does not think – my dad should think of me as pretty or my brother should look up to me. When we grow up this self-image becomes so ingrained that we are not even aware of it.

The society, media and other factors are all egging us to live in the future/past or create an ‘Ideal self-image’. The TV ad that tells you that if you use their aftershave lotion, you will find love, the news piece about a spiritual coach, the interview with an actor/actress with a so-called perfect body.

Nowhere people tell you that the practically impossible to live in the future or the past. My body is right now sitting on a couch, typing these words in the keypad. I can’t skip to the next weekend – but my mind starts thinking about the following weekend, and I have lost touch with reality. I can think about it all I want – the weekend will get here when it is NOW.

We/our minds keep jumping away from the present moment all the time – into past or future or dreamland. There is nothing wrong with planning. We do not stop at planning; we derive a sense of self from something happening or not happening in the future, which becomes futile.

Like the nested Russian dolls, we have lost sense of who we are or where we are. There is so much depth to the present moment that we never explore because we are so busy looking at the outer covers – its paints, designs. A big part of understanding the depth is the acknowledgement of the inevitable is-ness of the present moment.

Where are you right now?

Another Ten Days

It is time for my annual Vipassana retreat blog. 

Like all things this year, Vipassana retreat centres have been closed in most places. At the beginning of the year, I thought I might be able to do it in a centre – but as the year progressed that possibility dwindled. I have always done a course at a centre and was not sure about the self-course at home. So, I waited and watched to see if the desire remains, and by grace, I realized the need to do a 1-day even if it is at home. And I am delighted to announce that I finished it today. 

At the core, it is just like any other course at the centre – the meditation technique remains the same. Water will boil, and ice will melt regardless of where in the world you are (depending on the temperature), it does not change its nature. However, this course was a lot harder because I had never realized the energy boost that the centres, teachers and other students provide. And I had to fill that gap by myself – it was tough. There were days when I found myself wondering what I have gotten myself into.

 All I did was meditate, eat, rest and sleep. And meditate mostly, 4:30-6:30 AM, 8:00-11:00 AM, 1:00-5:00 PM and 6:00-9:00 PM. Pretty hardcore, eh? All I did was observe my breath or my body sensations. And in this technique, you have to keep silent, and you cannot read/write/check emails; it’s just you and yourself.

Vipassana means to see ‘Reality as it is’ and not as we would like it to be. And it is a means to get rid of all suffering (misery, anger, anxiety etc.). For example, we all know that we should have compassion for all human beings. But I am sure we all can think of at least one person right now towards whom we have negativity. At the level of mind, we all know that it is not right, but we cannot help ourselves. Vipassana helps you see how you are the root cause of the negativity and not the other person and enables you to eliminate it. When we generate negativity there is an unpleasant sensation in our body (also our regular breathing rhythm changes) – once we become aware of the sensation and do not react it – we have changed the habit pattern of the mind.

Why I do Vipassana? Because there is the inner knowing that this is the right thing for me. It helps me achieve my personal vision of – ‘Becoming a better version of myself every day.’ Because I am a better person, I can make a better contribution to society.

Whether you do Vipassana or something else – it does not matter. What matters is you do – there is nothing more important in this world that self-awareness. It is not about building the next iPhone (god knows we don’t use the existing technologies a 100%) it is about understanding oneself.

Gnothi Seauton: How well do you Know Thyself?

What’s in a name?

One’s progress in childhood is marked by how soon you can answer the question, ‘What’s your name?’ And if you are also aware of your parent’s names – you are going places.

As a newborn baby, you are utilizing your five senses to the fullest. Your understanding of your mom is through the smell, touch, voice, visual and also how you feel. Your knowledge of the entire world is based on sense perceptions. When the kid reaches the eighteen-month mark, the mind becomes active and wants to know everything. And that’s when the mind takes over.

The mind knows the object on the side of the road is a tree. But it knows it only as a name – and it’s perceived understanding of what a tree is. We never ask the child how does a tree sound like? What does the tree feel like? I am sure some of you are wondering what kind of stupid questions are these. A tree can be a lesson in life itself. It lets go of its leaves when its fall without clinging to them. It faces storms, rains and gales with the same equanimity. They clean the air without wanting anything in return. These aspects also equally make up a tree and are more meaningful than the four-letter word we have reduced trees to in today’s world.

Think about all the other things we have reduced to their lettered names. The rose, sears tower, sea, ocean, individuals – in fact, in today’s world, you can google anything and feel like you know it all. Our minds may read and memorize the entire encyclopedia, but without experience, it means nothing. I understand that some things are good to learn like how do stoplights work or how to drive a car? But they are a minority when you come to think of it. It’s like we are unable to go beyond naming something.

Why is this important? Because it can help keep our minds in control. Like anything else in this world – if we overuse our mind, then we are in trouble. Minds are just tools to help us function in the world, but in today’s world, we are ruled by our minds. The collective human mind governs society. We believe every thought that arises in our mind instead of watching it as it appears and let it go. In the watching lies the choice on whether to act or not based on the thought.

We have forgotten that NO THOUGHT matters absolutely. What matters is the space in which the thought arises. And once you are rooted in that space, all decisions you make from that space will be of higher quality than the one you make based on your mind. Because a mind is a tool and like a hammer, the only thing it sees everywhere is a nail.

We are human beings who are having a spiritual experience and minds help us navigate the physical realm. Isn’t it time we ruled the minds?

What is your relationship with the mind?

You can find it – NOW

Meditation, Spiritual, Journey, Self, Isha, Tolle, Yoga, Consciousness, Presence – these have become buzzwords today. Almost everybody I know is aware of these things even if they are not actively practising. There is an aura or mystery around the whole spiritual journey which feels to be very remote from our day to day lives. For an ordinary householder who has a family to feed, a job to go to this seems irrelevant or impractical. And also to some unattainable unless you are going to sacrifice everything in your life or become a monk.

The reality is – that is not the case. It does not matter who you are – your race, wealth, family, gender – none of it matters. Each one of us can achieve inner peace NOW.

Imagine a drop of water longing to be an ocean. It keeps saying that it is stuck in a river, and there is no way it can experience the vastness of the sea or feel its unfathomable depths. What we forget is that the very essence of the drop of water or an ocean or a river is H2O. If the drop of water realizes that – then the vastness/depth of the ocean will not matter as much. Now, I am aware that this sounds very esoteric so I will switch to other examples.

Have you ever watched a beautiful sunrise, or a rainbow or a lovely tree or a flower? Have you ever watched a beautiful bride and cried? Have you ever looked at a baby or a young child and felt indescribable joy? If, the answer to any of this is yes – then you have already experienced inner peace within you. It might have been for a tiny fraction of second, but you have. Eckhart Tolle says that without these kinds of spaces, we would go mad.

Or, let’s say you have wanted something a car, promotion, a bigger house and you get it. At that moment for a brief second, you are happy because at that moment you are fulfilled.

And you know why we cry or feel so much joy and peace – because at that moment we have no thought. We experience the situation for it is – nothing is lacking or added. The moment as it is perfect. And to be honest, that is all there is – the present moment, NOW. If we can increase the span of time, we feel that space of ‘no-thing’ or no thought we will live in joy.

You can actively, consciously become aware of such moments, or you can induce them as needed. Please take a look at anything around you, be your dog, house plant or leaf anything and look at it without labelling it, or interpreting it. You will experience no-thought for a microsecond which will turn into seconds, minutes, hours – and an entire lifetime. And you will notice that when you genuinely look/see/hear or experience something in this manner, it will become more beautiful, melodious.

If it weren’t possible, we wouldn’t be discussing it. A part of us wants the inner joy and peace – that is why we do what we do.

How will you find space today?

YES to the moment

Saying YES to the moment is a buzzword these days. Surrender to what is will ring true if you are on a spiritual or self-growth path. And like anything profound and straightforward – we have managed to complicate it because we think with our minds. Our mind is flawed when it comes to more profound things in life because it operates only at the physical level.

How have we managed to complicate the simple YES to the moment?

SCENARIO 1: Let’s say you are in a difficult situation. Let’s say a bully is about to beat the daylights out of you. Or, your boss has done something that you fundamentally disagree with. Or, your colleague has made an offhand remark about you.

Saying yes to the moment does not mean that you let the comment that your colleague made go. You don’t like what your boss did, but you are going to accept the moment as it is and move on. Or, you are going to let the bully beat you.

What it means is you see the reality as it is. Your peer has uttered a bunch of words, and it bothers you. Accept that this has happened. You make a call on whether you are going to act or not. Be still and let the right action arise within you. Saying YES enables you to see the situation as it is and then act accordingly with better quality.

SCENARIO 2: You have lost your entire wealth in the stock market crash. Your wife has also left you. You have nothing left – no house, no car, nothing. You are sitting on a bench and contemplating your life.

Accepting the moment as it does not mean that you tell yourself, ‘I should accept that I am a loser. I made bad decisions in life, and now I have to suffer. I was a bad husband, and hence my wife left me.’ This is not accepting the moment; this is creating a story (not real) and making it real.

Accepting the moment is – acknowledging that you are sitting on a bench with five dollars in your pocket. You have nothing in your bank, and your wife wants a divorce. And you take action from here.

It is quite simple. Now, let me also say that accepting the moment does not mean that you do not learn lessons. You do, now you have another data point on investing in the stock market, behaving in the workplace or how to be a better husband.

We have become slaves to our mind instead of being the master. Minds are tools that are supposed to used as appropriate. That is why it is so complicated – mind (our ego) wants to make a story, predict the future, pass judgements—everything except being in the moment because it is painful and honestly quite boring.

What do you find more exciting? The guy who lost all his wealth or he is on a bench with five dollars.

How will you change the way you say YES to the moment?

Reality Is…

I had given a talk to OSU – MBA students last year. And one of them asked me a question, ‘I have seen the movie Dangal in which Aamir Khan had to fight with society and sometimes even his daughters to make them into national wrestling champions. I want to know how the experience was for you?’

My answer was, ‘I have been fortunate in that matter. I always use to tell my parents that my brother got to do everything because he was a boy and how they loved him more than me. And one day, my dad being my dad asked me – Tell me one time when I stopped you from doing something.’ And that was it I never brought up that topic again.

But it makes me wonder why is this even a story in my life? That as a girl, I had to fight for or did not get the same chance as usual people. 

I just saw the movie, ‘Gunjan Saxena – The Kargil Girl’ which depicts the life of the first female pilot in India. As the first female pilot in the Indian Air force, she had to deal with all men counterparts, no female toilets or changing rooms. Tired of this, she does go back home and tells her dad that she wants to get married and settled down. Her dad played by the brilliant actor – Pankaj Tripathi, tells her – ‘The way to get out of the cage is free your way out of the cage and not clip your wings.‘ A compelling statement if you think about it. How many of us give up on our dreams by clipping out wings, settling for the mediocre in our life. It takes courage to pursue what you want despite difficulties. And if we remember that the growth happens in the journey and not at the destination, maybe it might become easier.

There is another scene where she is rejected in her first medical exam because of a) 7 Kg overweight and b) 1 cm less in height. She comes back home sad and refuses to wake up from her bed the next day. Her dad says, ‘People who never stop working hard, destiny/fate will never stop working for them. You do what is in your control and rest we will see how it pans out.‘ Such simple advice but how difficult to follow in practice. All I have to do is to work hard and do what is in my control, but it is so easy to get caught up in the drama of things that are out of our control. For example, a colleague tells you about how somebody else got an exciting project because he or she knows somebody. Now do you ignore that comment and continue working on your skills, or do you keep wondering how you will never be successful because you do not know anybody higher up?

You get what you work for not what you wish for. Are you wishing or working?

Beyond Our Noses

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?

Can You See It?

All of us have been part of at least one of the following scenarios.
SCENARIO 1: Seen a kid, niece or nephew and commented on how much they have grown? – ‘Oh My God – she has grown so much.’
SCENARIO 2: An uncle, aunt or somebody older than you comment on how much you have grown? -‘Look how tall you have become.’

And if you haven’t, then I am sure at some point you have looked at your old pictures or even in the mirror and commented on how much you have changed. These changes are physical changes that our body goes through as we age. And these are very visible, unfortunately for us especially as we age. Grey hair, Wrinkles, not so firm Skin, height, weight are all outward appearances of growth.

What about the signs of internal growth – emotional and mental maturity. They are not as visible but equally important if not more. It is hard for even us to see the growth that has happened to us. We don’t get a halo or a ring around our head as we progress on the path of maturity. And it is also not automatically correlated to our physical maturity – for example now that you are X age – you are at 60% mental maturity. I am sure all of us have met people who are wiser than they look and people who could do with a little bit more growing-up.

From the time we are born, we automatically start learning, and that learning happens in leaps and bounds as we do not know anything. And most of that learning happens without us knowing about it. If our parents told us to brush our teeth twice a day – that’s what we did. We never sat down and analyzed if that is a good thing. Unfortunately, as we grow up, we do not that either – we just let it happen without actively learning.

For example, you have a boss who is a micromanager, and you listen to the boss and get your job done, or you speak up and ask for autonomy. How often do we sit down and say to ourselves, ‘I have a situation here – how should I go about it?’ or ‘Well, that did not go well – what can I learn from here?’ We wake up and get on with our lives – ups and downs included.

Our emotional growth and maturity would be faster and targeted if we were an active participant. What if we started the day wanting to be a better version of ourselves every day. What if we sat down at the end of the day and did a quick lesson learnt session. How much better we would be, our life would be. And our emotional maturity marker might not be visible, but it would be in an upward trajectory. Guess what, if it did not increase as much, then it is a reminder to ask ourselves what we can do next?

Can you see and track your emotional growth inside?