Transitioning to WFH – watch-outs for overwhelmed mid-managers!

New times bring forth new challenges and positives. The IT services sector – a global, tech-focussed, multi-industry sector – is used to change as a rule. The COVID-resultant transition to WFH en-masse was a biggie though.

Middle managers, in particular, seem to be struggling – they suddenly find that their time is not their own. They are used to working across time-zones and extended working hours – but WFH stretches the demand by a large margin. With mobility still restricted across most cities and WFH in place, boundaries are getting blurred – no one knows when the day starts or when it ends. Weekends aren’t spared either – work seems to fill in every waking hour. 

At a closer look, this seems to derive from two significant aspects:

  1. Colleagues/ managers block associates’ time for meetings indiscriminately. Some take refuge in the reasoning of commute hours and limited mobility, providing people with more home time. And when they are home, maybe it is ok to take a few more calls? Managers also suffer from Fear of missing out (FOMO) and do more calls. Busyness is mistaken for effective-ness resulting in long days of endless meets.
  2. The number of people on emails and the number of emails – both have gone up exponentially. Again, with people always having a phone or a laptop closeby, responses (and forwards!) are faster, leading to very significant email times and distracted lives! There’s almost a movement clamouring for attention – in a sense we are becoming cry babies!

When coupling this with the massive cognitive overload due to the situation on hand with the virus (which is working on everyone’s mind in the background) – people end up exhausted. 

These are early days, and given human capacity to adapt, am sure we’d evolve some optimal responses very soon. 

However, it is worth spending a moment on a couple of assumptions that underpin the above behaviours:

a. The first assumption is that our very identity depends on our work titles and the work that we do. It’s not the case – at least for most people – identification with your managerial persona and title would be but a decade old if you were in your thirties and a few decades old if you were in your fifties. Over half your life you lived life as a non-manager, perhaps it’s time to grab some of that “identity beyond work” back! 

Those who have other identities are doing way better. A colleague who is also a gifted singer has started zoom classes for kids during non-working hours. Another friend is teaching online meditation. People are rediscovering their love for books and music afresh. Folks are discovering the joys of household work – everyone has interests, and this seems to be the best time to exercise that. Spending some time with our colleagues to understand them beyond their work personas will open us to a limitless world of conversations. It’s important to realise that this does not mean the ones with other interests do any less quality work; they are just as good and often produce even more inspired work. They are less stressed as well and more fulfilled.

Here’s a masterpiece from Alain De Botton on how to bring back our curiosity – he looks at how children do this effortlessly. A brilliant, brilliant read.

b. Secondly, there’s an assumption that our time is free. It certainly is not – it is our most expensive resource. Here’s Seneca explaining this in his inimitable style in a lovely brainpickings.org post:

I am always surprised to see some people demanding the time of others and meeting a most obliging response. Both sides have in view the reason for which the time is asked and neither regards the time itself — as if nothing there is being asked for and nothing given. They are trifling with life’s most precious commodity, being deceived because it is an intangible thing, not open to inspection and therefore reckoned very cheap — in fact, almost without any value.

If this realisation sinks in, time becomes an ally, not a nuisance. 

If you are one of those mid-management people who find things a little overwhelming – I trust the above would help alleviate this a bit. If you are one of those who already have mastered managing time and the transition to WFH, would love to hear more about your experiences.

Do leave a like/ share/ comment – makes a world of difference as always.

Deepavali – the Festival that everyone loves

Deepavali elevates goodwill to a whole new level. Deepavali – often called the festival of lights – is very special – it oozes goodwill and gratitude. You share sweets, gifts and greetings with your neighbours, relatives and every one involved in your life (yeah – dont forget the security folks who ensure your life is safe or the local merchants who bring the choicest delicacies to your doorstep!) and perhaps it’s the one day where smiles are truly infinite. You also buy new clothes for the occasion and stuff for your home – society and the traders benefit. Abundance, sharing and love shine forth together in this unique festival.

I love the fact that we honour our ancestors (and gods too) too. We burst fireworks and play with sparklers (yeah green ones these days 🙂 to light up the world so our ancestors can see us (and chuckle at the fun we are having perhaps) and also to illuminate their paths to the higher worlds they are transitioning to. The sarams (the string of crackers tied together) is also believed to help guide laxmi, the goddess of wealth to your home! Fun and gratitude – can there be a better mix?

Earthernware lights and kolams (fantastic designs made of edible stuff that insects and ants can digest) are a brilliant way of bringing out our exuberance and joy and sharing it with the world. Indeed, function and form come together in an amazing synergy lighting up the world on this day – and importantly – all of this is also imbued with a sense of higher purpose and meaning. Can can you think of a better way to honour mother earth?

Importantly, you take care of yourself as well. There’s a ritualistic oil bath and a home-made medicine that ensures your body is able to accommodate the wonderful sweets and savouries that will punctuate your Deepavali at frequent intervals! A prayer to God with gratitude for all the good things in your life sets you perfectly. This is enhanced further by blessings from your elders – at home and those you visit through the day.

This festival has you covered from all aspects – physical, emotional, spiritual – you name it. Kids love it – so creativity is at the heart of it. It gives a chance for everyone – elders, children, adults – to bring out the child in themselves and provide for others in their own ways. It’s also a chance to love and be loved back in return. It is a gift from our ancestors to us – a benediction from a wonderful and multi-faceted Hindu way of life passed on to its descendants and indeed the world. Let us cherish this extraordinary festival of joy and light – happy Deepavali to everyone…

An emptiness that’s fulfilling – my experience with the isha shoonya program

Over the last four days, I had the opportunity to attend the shoonya intensive programme at the isha ashram in coimbatore.

Intensive is the right word – indeed it’s the first thing that strikes you about the program. Right from the consecrated hall which sends out intense vibes, the format of the program which makes sure that every minute is accounted for effectively, and the very wise teachers (who are also full time volunteers) and the program volunteers who take service to a whole different level altogether, and of course the curated videos of Sadhguru which ensure that concepts become internalised truths in you – intensity is a word that perfectly describes the programme.

The interesting thing though is this – all this intense focus does not translate into long faces and on-edge behaviour. Indeed there’s a sense of relaxation and gentle humour pervading the entire program.

At every moment there’s the sense that a good-natured-laugh and a profound learning is just a minute away.

The teaching is deep – and like all of the best things in life, the practices grow on you over time. I know this from past experience. On my very first isha program, I was surprised when the teacher advised us not to take notes.

“This is not a learning of the mind, but an experience to go through. Just stay with us and you will pick it all up” he said

I have come to appreciate that there is a different way to learn – that of experiential learning. You learn through hearing, seeing, visualisation, doing and repetition. And stuff learned this way stays with you – its a transmission of experience not just a transfer of concepts.

So what I did I learn? I came back with two practices – about an hour’s worth of daily practice – which promise deep restfulness and explosive energy respectively. If these seem contradictory, its another fact I have come to appreciate about spirituality at large – its hard to decode spiritual practices with just the mind. The best approach is to try it for a while and see if it does something to you. When it comes from a true source, it will often flower into something that you cannot explain or predict – its beyond words. The little while is a mandala to start with – about 40 days of uninterrupted practice for the practice to take root in your life. Its something I will be able to do hopefully – and will look to post on any experiences.

But there’s another learning that’s stayed with me.In one of the videos played, Sadhguru mentions that every day he is greeted by tears of joy no matter where he happens to be in the world. And I believe, its these tears of joy and gratitude toward their master and the world that inspire the teachers and the volunteers to share so much and so well – with absolutely no expectations.

Indeed that’s the learning – that there’s an extraordinary way to go about one’s life – being relaxed yet attentive, intensely focused, with a smile on the face, and a joy in the heart. When you work like that, I guess you are a blessing to the world.

Its an inspired way to live and work – and while a long shot, its something that I look to internalise – stay tuned for any progress updates!

HNY and two life-changing gifts for you!

“Man suffers only because he takes seriously what the Gods made for fun.”

Alan Watts

As we embark on the new year, here are a couple of frameworks from two legends (one was a stoic philosopher and the other leads our ecom revolution today!) that have served me well over the years – with the wish that they prove to be key tools in your arsenal too and make the year very special.

How to overcome fear – the Seneca way

Fear is an universal emotion – while what we fear differs from person to person (security/death/illness/loneliness), the emotion itself looms heavy on most of our minds. Seneca, the stoic sage, has an antidote to fear that builds upon a simple insight that “fear of an event is often more crippling than the event itself”.

And once we accept this, then he has a simple solution to transcend the fear. Embrace the fear and act upon it – albeit in small doses!

Seneca gives us a practical example to illustrate his framework and his advice on how we can overcome the fear of poverty are very relevant even today (the fear of poverty is why we are “always” engaged in worrying about our financial security, our addition in working all the time etc.)

“Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with course and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: ‘Is this the condition that I feared?’” – Seneca

Seneca

Now Seneca was one of those rare philosophers who practiced what he preached – and his solutions therefore have exceptional real time validity. So do try out the framework, it has certainly worked for me in many instances.

How to evaluate life changing decisions – Bezos’ regret minimization framework

In the face of a decision that involves a significant change to our life – personal or professional – I have always had the challenge of debating endlessly between what the mind tells me is right and what the heart encourages me to do. Jeff Bezos (yes the Amazon guy) apparently faced a similar dilemma a few decades ago – he was torn between choosing to embark on an uncertain dream (starting amazon.com) or continuing with his job (which included a “big bonus” in the short term!).

In his trademark style, here’s him thinking this through and coming with a wonderful framework that can serve all of us:

I went to my boss and said to him, “You know, I’m going to go do this crazy thing and I’m going to start this company selling books online.” This was something that I had already been talking to him about in a sort of more general context, but then he said, “Let’s go on a walk.” And, we went on a two hour walk in Central Park in New York City and the conclusion of that was this. He said, “You know, this actually sounds like a really good idea to me, but it sounds like it would be a better idea for somebody who didn’t already have a good job.” He convinced me to think about it for 48 hours before making a final decision.

So, I went away and was trying to find the right framework in which to make that kind of big decision. I had already talked to my wife about this, and she was very supportive and said, “Look, you know you can count me in 100 percent, whatever you want to do.” It’s true she had married this fairly stable guy in a stable career path, and now he wanted to go do this crazy thing, but she was 100 percent supportive. So, it really was a decision that I had to make for myself, and the framework I found which made the decision incredibly easy was what I called – which only a nerd would call – a “regret minimization framework.”


So, I wanted to project myself forward to age 80 and say, “Okay, now I’m looking back on my life. I want to have minimized the number of regrets I have.” I knew that when I was 80 I was not going to regret having tried this. I was not going to regret trying to participate in this thing called the Internet that I thought was going to be a really big deal. I knew that if I failed I wouldn’t regret that, but I knew the one thing I might regret is not ever having tried. I knew that that would haunt me every day, and so, when I thought about it that way it was an incredibly easy decision. And, I think that’s very good. If you can project yourself out to age 80 and sort of think, “What will I think at that time?” it gets you away from some of the daily pieces of confusion. You know, I left this Wall Street firm in the middle of the year. When you do that, you walk away from your annual bonus. That’s the kind of thing that in the short-term can confuse you, but if you think about the long-term then you can really make good life decisions that you won’t regret later.

Jeff Bezos (I believe this was from “the Everything Store” – a wonderful book by Brad Stone)

I’ll leave you with one more thing (yeah!) – some wonderful advice from Russ Roberts‘ “How Adam Smith can change your life” where he encourages us to be kind and trustworthy to make the world a better place. BTW – if you haven’t read it yet, this is a must read book on so many different levels.

 “If you want to make the world a better place, work on being trustworthy, and honor those who are trustworthy. Be a good friend and surround yourself with worthy friends. Don’t gossip. Resist the joke that might hurt someone’s feelings even when it’s clever. And try not to laugh when your friend tells you that clever joke at someone’s expense. Being good is not just good for you and those around you, but because it helps others be good as well. Set a good example, and by your loveliness you will not only be loved, but you may influence the world.”

And that’s it for now – here’s wishing everyone a wonderful year. Please do share/like/comment this post – it’s the conversation that adds the greatest value to a post.


Self Awareness – perspectives from a corporate coach and a spiritual teacher

Over the last few weeks,  I have had the opportunity to connect with two very different leaders – a corporate coach and a spiritual teacher. Both of them were expounding on a common topic – how to more “self aware” and in the processes deepening empathy (ability to put oneself in others shoes).

The self they talked was not the same though – the coach equated the self to our personalities – and he was looking to improve my personality (a tough ask!). He was looking for me to learn well – gain deep knowledge, best practices, intellectually intense one-one sessions – and the learning will elevate my personality.

The spiritual teacher was talking about the Self (note the capitalisation here) – the “god” within each of us. This “Self” is your true nature – the only reason you cannot find it is because it is hidden behind all the learning and conditioning over the years (indeed lifetimes!). “Unlearn well and your nature will reveal itself ” he intoned.

So one wanted me to be an expert learner and the other – an expert at unlearning!.

But that wasn’t all.The coach focusses on thought and theory. He wants me to reflect on some of my life experiences, take inventory of my thoughts, judge them (as positive vs negative thoughts) and label them (e.g. differentiating between being skeptical vs cynical). The list that emerges out of this involved intellectual exercise is then representative of my “emotional intelligence quotient” he opines. The more words that I am able to show in your journal (all neatly classified and labelled) – the more I am becoming emotionally intelligent. And I’d do well to read a little (pick daniel goldman’s classic as a first step) and be diligent with my paper exercises (inventory, classification and labelling) – and over time, results will follow. How would I know I am truly more self aware – my DISC or equivalent psychological scorecard, a couple of positioning charts will all help me rate myself against my benchmarks. In his view, self awareness and emotional intelligence are a skill and knowledge that needs to be learned.

The spiritual guru is not interested in thought – he neither likes them or dislikes them – he just dosent care about them. His is not the way of the mind but the heart. He recommends we observe sensations in the body, gently pushing aside thoughts – not quite suppressing them – not celebrating them either. And there is no classification of what is good or bad – observe and over time you yourself will recognise how you are getting along. The recognition comes out of experience and not a intellectual score card. Everyone is on his or her unique journey – and has the necessary native intelligence to recognise what is best for themselves. Awareness for him is more about unlearning rather than learning – you remove layers of conditioning and knowledge – and presto you will begin to see things the way they truly are. And once you get there, you will relate to yourself and to others automatically in a deeper way – for “empathy and authenticity” are the very essence of being human.

They back themselves differently too. The coach considers himself successful using a model similar to that he advocates – professional credentials, monetary wealth, testimonials, impressiveness of his client list. His models and frameworks have worked with over 500 of his customers – and therefore it should work for you as well. If it doesn’t – you are doing something wrong – after all, the model is proven!

The spiritual leader vouches for your divinity on the back of having experienced all of nature as one and his conviction from that experience on the true nature of the human form. Indeed he does not see himself as a doer – he sees himself as an instrument through which existence is playing its lilas – just like you, its just that you aren’t aware of it yet. For him rediscovery is an unique journey – there is no pass or fail here – and once you find your compass, you will do what is right for you – irrespective of whether it aligns to society and corporate success measures.

Two very diametric approaches – and in their own way can contribute to the individual requirements.  The important point though is to become aware first of the two selves (personality and internalised godhead!) and decide which one we want to pursue! Its easy to mistake one for the other – a mistake that can turn out to be costly! Agree? Thanks for reading – do comment/share/like – would love to keep the conversation going!

Better Decision making – The Gita and Proust to our rescue!

Why do we often make the wrong decisions?

I came across an incredible insight from contemplating on a few messages in the Gita recently – it talks about the two powerful approaches we all have for connecting/ making decisions. The first is using discriminatory intelligence (buddhi in sanskrit) where we use our reasoning power to decide the right path forward. The second is the emotive aspect (manas in sanskrit) – where decisions are based on emotional considerations a (and yeah – we often then force fit a “rational” reason to support the decision!). And the awesome insight is that we use the wrong tool for the wrong context – flip it around and we should be ok.

So for instance – if an acquaintance’s relative dies, we use our discriminative facility and tell them exactly how to process this loss. We share quotes on the fragility and the fleetingness of life and provide ideas to help the person deal with the loss. Chances often are that the person is not in the right frame to take this piece of advice – they are too emotionally wrought – and we end up not connecting at all.

Now, when we are faced with a similar disaster, we use emotive reasoning instead of the discriminatory one. We play the scene over and over in our minds and bring up emotions of anger, guilt, denial – we struggle to move on with life for a very, very long time.

Our ancient wisdom seems to say – why not flip this around? In the first case, use some emotional connect – put yourself in the person’s shoes and you’ll know what they feel like. And your response can be based on their nature (some will want to be alone, some would want a listener as they vent their frustration, some would just want a shoulder to cry on). In short, you are bringing in some empathy.

And when dealing with disasters at home, using the buddhi may be more helpful. This requires a complete acceptance of what has happened and how one feels (Sad/ helpless etc) and then permit oneself to “without blame” process the pain/ grieve/ provide any other outlets as much as required. The acceptance of the situation and directly feeling the emotion will bring some peace at the end as we close out unresolved questions.

For such large scenarios, this makes sense. But how then can we decide in the case of smaller everyday decisions – which situation calls for which response? I guess Proust has an answer in his “impartial observer”. Proust recommends that we imagine an impartial observer by our side at all times – and we ask ourselves what will he do? And when we do that, the impartial observer can pick the right response from the above – and that can lead to some progress.

Would you agree with this approach?

The mindfulness experiments – 1

A few months ago, I decided it was time to incorporate some mindfulness into my day. Now this is a much used (and some say abused!) term today – and a novice like me can add to the woes easily. So let me at the outset define what it means for me – and then go on to share what’s been happening since I gave it a test run.

To me mindfulness equals being “aware”, of “noticing”consciously. Note that I am not trying to “improve” anything – the effort on my side is only to notice. The very act of noticing consistently can perhaps provide insights for change – if and when required – to begin with, its only about taking stock of my state.

So in short, if I could witness myself being angry, being happy, being sad, walking, talking – whatever be my state of being or activity- I could call the experiment  a success. Quite a modest goal you say huh – perhaps it is, it just wasn’t as easy as I thought it to be though – let me explain.

On a given day – we meet many people, we do many things. And through the day, we experience emotions. Plenty of them – with everyone’s talking/feeling/trying change  – and disruptive change at that. And without your even noticing it, all this seeming volatility can get to you – it can affect your mood, it can drain you out, and even leave you unwell. And it was this sense of feeling mentally fatigued, a touch angry and too often (a little unusual for me!) that got me curious about what was happening – and I started maintaining a nightly journal.

Every night before turning in, I would rewind the day as best I could remember and jot down how I felt. Writing stuff down brings in clarity – and the first few days provided enough fodder for me to realise how many moments through the day I wasn’t proud of. There were moments of fleeting negative emotion – some expressed, some withheld – both of them leading to some composure ruffling. And then before you could settle down and let the emotion go, off you were on another jaunt -more emotions coming your way. A few times, you expressed something uncharacteristic – but before you could make amends or clarify further – the next meeting was on. And so I moved from one unresolved emotion and unfinished business to another – and it was all these unclosed events that led primarily to the energy drain.

I felt better immediately post the journaling (and indeed laughed at some of the events) – and where some course correction was warranted (say – apologise/ clarify/ maybe even just spend some more time with the person involved) put it down on my next day’s task list. Very quickly, the “unfinished business” list was coming down. And indeed, I felt awesome.

Miracles come in small packages to your aid when you are trying some positive stuff. Sukumar gifted me a little doll (designed after a Japanese ritual) that had two large eyes. You made a wish, coloured an eye and placed it somewhere you could look at it often.  And every time you caught the doll’s eye, it would remind you of what your wish was – and you would be “nudged” toward your desired effort. in my case, it was to be more mindful – and with the arrival of the doll, twice a day i reviewed my day – a significant improvement from the nightly journal.  And the benefits began to accumulate. The sense of being “overwhelmed or touchy” began to dissipate and more importantly I could now clearly notice what were aspects that touched a nerve. And once you noticed these, without realizing you made adjustments in your life to limit the exposure to the toxic situations, people, tasks – basically stuff that gave you no sense of accomplishment at all, but did have significant emotional overhead. This following wonderful Naval Ravikant  served to be the scale on which I reviewed my day primarily:

“What you choose to work on, and who you choose to work with, are far more important than how hard you work.”

Its important to notice that I wasn’t focussing on the interventions required for improvement here – just noticing how different events made me feel made the difference. Indeed I was not adding – but actually subtracting stuff resulting in gaining me more free time to focus on things I cared about!).

 

A quick summary of the above for all you super busy folks: – If you feel there’s too much going on in your work life (feeling overwhelmed/ touchy etc. etc) – try the following:

a. Start off by journaling in the nighttime (rewind the entire day – you’ll be surprised by how much you remember). If there’s any event you’d like to course correct (say call a colleague who you were a touch upset with for instance and talk it through), put that on your list

b. If the above works for you, try to have a few more “check ins” – just before lunch and before leaving for the day are perfect – to rewind and take stock. You can drop the nightly journal at this point.

The story doesn’t stop there though. Last month, I was gifted 2 more invaluable aids to further the practice. The 1st was a workshop on evolving change happily using “tiny habits” – by Sukumar and Kumaran of tinymagiq. It’s a course that will change you one little habit at a time – and happily at that!  It certainly warrants another follow on post. The second was a wonderful book by Thich That Hanh on the “4 establishments of Mindfulness”. This book breaks down mindfulness itself into 4 parts (and therefore allows you to remember the day a lot, lot better across these areas). as I work  on this ‘mindfulness” journey – I continue to be amazed at how rewarding it is – and at the same time, how much more there is to travel.

The good part though is that the journey is as (if not more) rewarding than the destination (per all the gurus in this space). If you are on a similar journey, would encourage you to adopt any of the above techniques too – and do let me know how they work!

‘True’ and ‘true for me’ – two different things…

A friend came back disillusioned after having tried a meditation technique for a few weeks.

“The organization had statistics to prove how beneficial the course was. I even had friends who took the course and now swear by it. Why does it just not work for me – I swear I followed the instructions to a T?” he exclaimed.

This is becoming a common complaint. We do some research, pick an activity or a situation which we are sure will help us get to where we want to go – only to find that the glove doesn’t fit so well. And when this happens, we throw out the baby – in this case – my friend was unlikely to give meditation (even a very different school) another go in the future. What is happening here?

I have come to believe the answer is the difference between something being “true” and something being “true for me”. For instance – when someone talks about the speed of light being constant everywhere, we believe it – we may not have personally experienced it in all its shades, but its been verified repeatedly by many, many intelligent folks. Or when your car mechanic (a competent one) tells you your clutch is worn out, you take his advice without question – and the car is better post the fix. Fixes for clutches and scientific truths remain the same irrespective of who is inquiring into it.

When you consider ayurveda or meditation however, you need something more personal – attuned to your body type and your mental makeup. your “super analytic friend” may need to read up some of the logic-based scriptures and related techniques (say ramana maharishi’s advice of tracing “who am i?” to its source). A friend who has just experienced a major personal setback would need a totally different method – something to calm the mind like a mantra recitation or witnessing the breath perhaps. And there are further layers too within each type. For the upanishads are many and yet their goal is one – to help each of us discover our truths for ourselves. And our experience with the methods and approaches will let us know if its working.

So in short, these streams place the human being at the centre and encourage her to try out a particular path and keep tailoring it based on her experience. There is no “right or wrong” – there is only “right or wrong” for a person and/or for a circumstance. The field of validating facts has moved from an impersonal laboratory to yourself – your own body, your own mind, your own spiritual needs. 

I think this is a very liberating concept. And very interesting too. When a meditation technique doesn’t seem to work for you – you don’t have to blame yourself for not succeeding, nor do you need to judge the technique. You just need to understand its not the right one for you – at this time, it could be later on – and move on. Its also interesting – because to make the best choices, you need to understand yourself best – how else can you choose what’s most appropriate for you? This is what I told my friend – informing him of my own experiences – some which helped, some not so much. He seemed to agree – and has found another approach that seems to connect better.

What do you feel about this?

Read, Reflect, Rest – The 3 magical Rs!

It’s been a long while since my last post here. Why is that? I don’t know. I guess there are seasons when you are prolific, and then seasons when you are prolific – but at something else. You read, you reflect and you rest during those periods and the 3rs help you gain much-needed perspective to help you thrive in the busier seasons!

Reading opens out new worlds, introduces some cool friends and adventures, equips one to see the world in a new way. Is this what the ancients meant by the word “darshan”? For the “objective” world may not change, your world can though – when you begin to see the world in a different way.

The seeds of knowledge gained from reading sprout into wisdom when we reflect. Indeed ideas become habits, theories turn into practices only when we reflect a lot. The ancients prescribed meditation and contemplation in tandem – distilling our perceptions and learnings into deep-rooted insights.

The rest – is more of a repose. All of this mental activity needs a stable base to take effect. Rest need not mean just sleep – though sleep also helps as the mind subconsciously works out its magic. A restful walk, yoga, a spot of fishing, cooking – anything that puts the mind to rest is what I mean.

So that’s the thought for today. Prolific writing followed by periods of 3Rs as the seasons follow one another. Neither rushed, neither forced. Just allowing the inner wisdom to work on the inspirations from the world – sometimes internally and sometimes as a material product (an essay, a sculpture, a poem, a theorem, a business plan even maybe). It happens.

Would you agree?

Why we need the comfort food of religion and tribes more than ever today

The older one grows – not just by age but by experiences – the more one understands that not everything needs changing. Things are there for a reason, and mostly the reason is intended to assure your well-being.

Take religion for instance. Its fashionable for young people today to embrace atheism or spiritualism. Both are heady endeavours – one is the quest for rational thought as the individual strives to make a personal sense of his world, the other is a quest for experimental fulfilment as the seeker tries to experience reality as it is. Both are laudable pursuits and fulfilling – but terribly lonely. Success is hard to come by, and you are on a quest to reach the mountain with very little support from those around you. And others on the quest can be seen as competition adding to the pressure – and its easy to brand oneself a loser when someone (and there will always be someone!) seems to be progressing better.

Religion on the other hand is more forgiving. The tribe takes centre stage. There’s a God somewhere in the background who is nursing you and your tribe – and she will make sure everything is fine. Rituals buffet you against seismic events like funerals and give you reasons to celebrate wildly at weddings and other functions. Emotions are drawn out in so many ways indeed. Sacred places like temples encourage congregation, where people can converse with each other or vent their feelings to thier all-knowing god without holding back – for after all, we are but humans, we don’t have to hold ourselves to too-lofty-a-standard. The God knows everyone’s troubles already, doesn’t he? The set of shared values encoded into rules and rituals also keep you in touch with the seasons of the world and your growth.

And yes, most religions allow you to outgrow them when you are ready. Saints, Sufis, Monks, Nuns are all folks ready and strong to venture on their own into the unknown – leaving the cosy world of religion and the material behind. They are not escaping religion but rather expanding the frontiers of their religions so the tribe can use them as signposts should they want to.

The mind and the spirit are great quests on their own. The heart however demands company – and its the heart that religion embraces. And I do believe we need religions and the language of shared experiences and heart for the health of our tribes – even more today in an increasingly volatile world. Would you agree?

An ode to the dawn

The morning stillness comforts. Thoughts whittle away. The day’s cares are still a few hours out. For the most part, the phones are silent. The roads are enjoying some peace too.

Indeed the absence of all this noise allows us to perceive the morning’s essence better. The sun is beginning its majestic ascendency into the skies and the first brush of light bestows its grace on all of nature. The flowers raise their lovely faces to the sunlight and the beach sand opens its vaults revealing unlimited treasures. Here lies a simple sea shell, there ambles the magnificent tortoise, the thrifty crab hurries thither and the birds flutter away to glory. Sans the corn-on-the-cob sellers and the crowds, Nature’s bounty is being enjoyed by the natives. The enterprising fishermen are off in their boats with a song on their lips and a hope in their breast.

All of this is why heralding the dawn is so special. It gives one a panoramic view of what it means to be a human, to count our blessings and beautifully exist with no cares for a while. There’s a promise in the air and the comfort of nature’s embrace all around – now really, could one wish for more? Ah, perhaps a strong cup of filter coffee would make it even more perfect!

How to stay happy all the time (or at least be less anxious)!

It’s that time of the year, when everyone is actively looking for a “Kabali” ticket. Filing your taxes and watching Kabali – are the only two worthwhile goals for the month! The tribes on Whatsapp are profusely sharing  reviews/ opinions/ experiences on the movie – read them all and you realise an important fact – most of them are comparisons:

  1. Kabali rocks, way too good when compared to his earlier movie Lingaa
  2. The movie’s good, but not quite in the Baasha class….
  3. Thalaivar’s movie appeals globally. Almost like Muthu gathered popularity in japan, this one is likely too everywhere…….

You get the idea – everywhere the movie is judged, appreciated and rejoiced – and the degree of appreciation depends not on the intrinsic quality of the movie itself but on its relative compare with an ideal in the speaker’s mind.

Which brings me round to today’s topic – on how to be happy (or at least less anxious), irrespective of the situations we find ourselves in. As always, the ancients had this nailed down perfectly. When something bad/ undesirable happened, in their trademark, pithy way they had this to say (translated form Tamil – and not very well at that!)

“Bad luck that was to have taken your head, just took away your head-dress! Be thankful, persevere!”

In short, their remedy was for you to imagine the greater misfortunes that could have occurred but didn’t – a remedy that instantly calmed your mind. While seeming simple, it’s a remarkable cure. Let me elaborate with an example:

You slam your car against an obstacle and get your car dented (I recently did by the way!) and immediately start fretting over what you could have done better. You playback videos of alternate scenarios (With dent-less cars as the outcome of course!) in you mind – you could have driven slower, taken a better road, looked at the weather and chosen a more clement time to venture out etc. etc. Then the senior-most member in your family consoles you with the above proverb in her typically compassionate way. And you realize that the accident is actually much less severe that you imagine it to be. Consider the worse alternatives to a car dented but no other casualties;

–          The pain, grief and worry if you had hit an animal (or god forbid) a villager instead of the inanimate object

–          What if a drunken driver had hit your car at speed (and god knows in the early hours, there are many around!)

–          What if a tire had burst instead on the highway and you had lost control

The scenarios are endless – and from a pure probability standpoint are just as likely as that freak accident. As this realization dawns on you, you are grateful – thankful that a more disastrous outcome didn’t result and as a bonus you also become lot more mindful (perhaps decreasing the odds of future accidents as well!).

You can also apply it to situations where you are playing “victim” in over-drive mode. For instance, let’s say you have to go and inform a team member that their much awaited promotion is not happening.  You castigate the world and your system for being unfair (they could have accommodated an extra slot for him, the system seems pre-disposed toward another group etc. etc.). In short, the perfect moment to try out our miraculous medicine – the proverb from above. Apply it – and you ask yourself –  isn’t this task (distasteful as it is) so much better than for instance:

  1. The doctor who has to let his non-smoking patient know he has tested positively for cancer of the lungs?
  2. The policeman who has to inform his colleague’s wife of her husband’s death in a random, drive by shooting – being plagued by guilt himself for staying alive and not being able to have helped out.

And so it goes. There’s always a worse thing that could have happened -and therefore always a reason to stay grateful to providence. Further as Rumi quotes:

Where there is ruin, there is hope for treasure.

Its hard to internalise this though because we tend to compare our performances and abilities with those who appear to be lesser qualified than us and our misfortunes with those who are apparently luckier. Just shifting the comparisons will make life a lot less burdensome.

I try the approach out for a day – it seems to work everywhere. A slow driver who makes you wait for a signal more – check. A random motorcyclist who nicks your car – check. You don’t get tickets for Kabali on the first weekend – check.

You also tend to appreciate all the good things that have happened in your life a lot better. And that truly is the icing on the cake.

A hot cup of coffee on a cold evening – enjoy the heavenly experience (imagine Siberian prison life if you can for a really powerful view of what could have happened had you been born in another time, another place – this is what one of the world’s best ever writers (Dostovesky) went through!). Should you receive an award – cherish it unconditionally (imagine what Marie Curie went through!). if you have a friend to call and crib on demand – you are indeed blessed – most people don’t have this luxury.

Indeed when you practice this for a while, the sense of “entitlement” that pervades our lives gets transmuted into a sense of “humility and awe”. And in itself, that sense of benediction is a miracle of the highest order. Wouldn’t you agree?