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!

Love, hate and indifference

This weekend, I was lazily leafing through one of the all time great books (walden) when I came across this quote:

    ‘A man is rich in proportion to the amount of things he can afford to leave alone.’

When you think about it, its a profound quote. It doesn’t say you are rich if you amass wealth, it doesn’t say you are rich if you have richer relations, bigger industries, more land or even more knowledge. Interestingly, it also doesn’t say you don’t have to have all these things either. What the quote says is that the “have part” is irrelevant – you may or may not have all the goodies in the world – in either case you aren’t rich. Its the ability to leave them alone that makes you rich.

The more I think this through, the more the clarity on life I seem to get (and I may not even have got Thoreau’s meaning right in the first place!). One question that all the reflection seems to lead to though is “how many things do we leave alone” today.

A quote I saw on twitter promises to throw some light:

    The opposite of love is not hate, its indifference. If you hate someone, you still care!

Now, things that we love, we will probably leave alone (we may know it as “giving our loved ones space”) – for if we truly love someone, we want “them to be their true selves” and not “who we want them to be”. If your kid loves soccer and is good at it,no matter how much you want him to become a lawyer – you will let take up soccer and the world will richer by one soccer champion.

Its the hate part that I think its tougher to leave alone. When you think about it, most of the time we don’t leave the object of hate or ourselves in peace – and that is why our lives are so poor. Think about a simple incident where someone cuts ahead of you in traffic. Blood boiling, we drive our car abreast and abuse him, he probably returns the favour in kind. We get home but cannot enjoy life – the incident fuelled by hate keeps doing a looped playback in our heads!

I did an inventory today of how much of my time was spent on stuff that I hated – and perhaps would be better being indifferent about. A quick check and I realise if I could just knock this one trait into my system, I probably would gain many, many extra hours of peace everyday. Perhaps this is what sadguru jaggi vasudev meant – he seems to be recommending we loosen our personality (of which the hate is an integral part!) to allow awareness to flood in. After all, its perhaps nicer to be empty and host a god than be full of hatred and host a demon inside? And our families, friends and colleagues I am sure would love that as well?

A hero returns

Imagine you are a soldier, returning home after a long and hard battle. As you near home, your heart swells with anticipation, your strides get longer and bells go off in your head. You instinctively touch the gifts you bear for your loved ones and your heart aches for the comforts of home. At this moment, your cup of fulfillment runneth over…

Now, put yourself in the garb of a lady, the returning soldier’s mother. You swoon with pride at the thought of your illustrious son’s bravery and look to make sure the grand welcome you have planned out for him befits a hero. The gods are in your good books today, they have safely returned your son from a treacherous war. You look around at his young wife and son – who is busy bursting crackers and enjoying the adulation of being a hero’s son. A miracle is about to ensue, and you are all for spreading sweet and light all over the world.

Your son appears on the horizon and the town erupts in joy – their hero has returned and the world seems more safer and meaningful. Gratitude is the chief emotion all around.

To me, this is what I love about Deepavali – arguably the most popular of festivals in India. It symbolizes the return of Rama, the prince of Ayodya from an unfair decade plus-long exile as a result of a devious maidservant’s advice to an emotionally charged stepmother. The festival has many more underpinning myths as well – but this is my favorite by far – a festival being celebrated to honor the long-awaited return of a son to his loving society and family.

An Indian festival cannot but not have a spiritual dimension, can it? Could this story also indicate the merging of the realized soul (the prince) with the ultimate (home) – of man becoming god as it were?

I’ll leave you with two wonderful links

1. Swami tejomayananda of the chinmayamission mission explains lucidly the genesis of the festival here

2. Jaggi vasudev brings in unique insight into why the festival is actually acelebration of clarity of enlightenment. We need no better endorsement now than this right?

Defining moments

Defining moments – you’ve got to think about them with a bit of nostalgia.

Picture our ancestral man walking in the woods completely at the mercy of nature. He worships her and hopes she will be kind to him. He prays, pleads and cherishes nature – for he knows this is her eternal playground and he is but a player who can make hay only when the sun shines.

And then one day, a nerdy one from his community comes up with a contraption which tilts the balance a little in his favor. He can now do more with less and he lays his achievement at the feet of his god. Ploughs, clubs (the animal beating kind not the trance inducing kind!) and fire are very early examples of such inventions. Man basked in glory with his invention and nature smiled in acknowledgement of his genius.

Over time, the machines take over and nature often gets displaced from the equation, indeed she has become fodder to the machines in several cases. Think about it – cars and phones have made distance irrelevant, air-conditioning and heaters have softened weather extremities and so on. The ozone layer, fossil fuels and precious metals are fast becoming endangered – but without doubt, the inventions they have enabled have improved material quality of life, saved numerous lives and put people on the moon.

To me, the second phase is always intriguing – the one where nature still ruled but man exhibited his brilliance and excelled. This man travelled where no man had gone before and could truly feel he had hit a home run (in the third phase, I suppose the machines could feel the same way too!). There are a few of the wonderful inventions from yesteryear we can experience even today – and when we do, we experience a bit of the joy that our very proud ancestor must have felt in those very early days.

The “Inland” letters: Think back a few hundred years. Man had to make long arduous journeys (or coax his traveler pigeons!) to communicate with his loved ones. It was only the fit and the adventurous that could make such journeys and a messenger could take with him but brief notes from the entire tribe. Just facts were shared – there wasn’t enough technology to be able to share emotions yet.

The age of the post office dawned then and allowed for low-cost, elaborate, emotional communication. Handcrafted letters to your loved ones and greetings to brighten up special occasions were the order of the day – a state of affairs that continued till the dawn of this century. People spent time choosing the type of paper (also the pen and the ink) and spent quality time composing letters that spoke volumes and were cherished by the receiver. Many from the “letter generation” have collections that they hold very dearly to this day.

If this seems like a cool thing, why not share a personalized (yes you could use your tablet too!) thoughtful message to a loved one today? How do we know its personalized – check the distribution list (it should be singular!), check the address and signature (it should not be auto signature) and ask yourself if the person concerned deserves a hand-written note (if he/she does you are bang on target).

Bicycles: The invention of the bicycle must have been a momentous moment for man who could suddenly travel twice or thrice the distance he could cover earlier in the same amount of time with ease. The bicycle still required him to pedal though (gears came much later!) and he couldn’t cycle on rough roads or in very bad weather. It wasn’t man vs machine vs nature, but rather a partnership that stretched the limits of man and machine and helped him do more with nature.

The bicycle even today brings in this feeling – almost mystical – of experiencing the fast paced world without sacrificing one’s humanness. You feel the road and its surface bumps (especially if you have one of those modern ones which don’t have suspensions!), you can see (and smell) the multi-colored hues on the vegetable seller’s stalls, sense the excitement in the old couple rushing to catch the bus home for dusshera and the prayers on the children’s lips hoping for a miracle (for the school to be declared a holiday!). You can also feel the stark indifference from the cars (and the big SUVs) which scream past, windows locked, music and mobiles on – they are there beside you on the road but the electronics (and machines) are a pied piper of our times – and have claimed these folks into their virtual world.

Now, here’s the thing – these reflections do not demand binary responses – you don’t need to replace your mercedes with a bicycle. You don’t need to replace sending hundreds of emails addressed to tons of people with personalized messages – you cannot do so nor would our relationship with most of the recipients be intimate enough to deserve a personalized message (just yet).

To complement our very busy life though, if could bring in a few moments where we get to experience some of these “defining and human” moments – our lives would be much richer. At these moments, we are truly alive with nature, machine and man in true equilibrium – and the symmetry does bring a smile to your face.

Now its an ode to a very affable God…

Let’s start with an exercise, close your eyes and imagine (don’t ask me how you can read this sentence if your eyes are closed though!) a plumb largish figure seated on a small mouse (yes, you got that right!). Sweets of numerous kinds are placed at his feet (yes, it’s a he). You are surprised to see he has multiple hands – some holding weapons of destruction (a trident for instance) while one hand is raised in a blessing. You move your gaze upward – and you are astonished to see an elephant’s face looking back to you – with large flapping ears, trunk and tusks (albeit one is broken). There’s a serene smile on his face, a sense of prosperity all around him and his wisdom envelops you. Here’s an image that may help with the visualization.

I dare say it’s a touch tough to imagine this – but if you have done so, congratulations – you have just been introduced to one of our most beloved gods, Ganesha. Note that I don’t say feared – but loved – for this is a god that is comforting, generous and loving and today is the day he is worshipped all over the country (and indeed the world) – so what else can be right but to pen some perspectives (as usual reaching for perspectives as opposed to scripture – which are plentiful on the internet and more authoritative too.

A visual tale – breaking down the barriers

The most interesting thing to me is how his image immediately breaks down reservations about believing him. People may break into laughter, they may feel like cuddling the odd-shaped baby god or playfully pulling his ear. The image does not command undue courtesy or formalism, there’s really no “holier than thou” image at play here. No censure, no rules, no long faces, no qualifications – if a god can come and meet you in this format – he really should be accessible you feel. And before you know it, you like him and if you are lucky, you can move on to discover the amazing nuances of this affable god.

Prosperity – before spirituality

Man needs money, he needs hope. He needs his genuine desires to become realities. He needs these before he can set his sights on elevated spiritual truths.

This model is accepted by the vedas and they therefore describe us as each having seven chakras (or seven energy centers) which lead us from an earth-bound life to universal truths. The base chakra is called the root chakra (muladhara chakra) and when this flowers in an human being, he is able to realize fulfillment (and interestingly also aspire only the things that are essential!) and remove obstacles. And the lord for this particular chakra is none other than Ganesha.

In every Hindu temple, his is the first shrine people visit and he grants them the will and the skill to fulfill their key needs before moving further. So whether it’s a new bike, that condo, the private jet or the need to pass a tough paper – this is the guy you should go to.

Symbolism – for moving you to other planes

Most of us stop at the above level. We also prostrate to him in a unique way (holding our ears and squatting a few times) – something that the ancients say is a very beneficial physical activity. But some of us have a few unanswered “why’s”…
– Why does he have that mouse, and why does it look so obedient?
– Why does he have those sweets and gifts placed at his beck and call?
– Why does he have an elephant’s head and why is the trunk broken? And so many more…
This curiosity takes us into the very heart of the Hindu way of becoming a great man or woman. The mouse we are told represents the ego – its best to make it small and keep it at our control (unless you want to become an egomaniac – in which case we need another role model!). If your ego (and your desires) is under control, paradoxically all the riches of the world will be at your disposal too say the scriptures.

We are told the elephant uniquely possesses the strength to destroy as well as the finesse to pick a pin in its trunk – suddenly we are given clues on what makes a man successful – and fulfilled. We of course pick lots of very interesting trivia as well. And every aspect of the image thus enthralls us with grandmotherly, scientific and even scholarly truths.

And onto wisdom we move

That’s when they tell us about his wisdom. Infact he is considered the wisest among gods (another aspect we are celebrating this day) and has written the “mahabharatha” which was dictated byanother great sage( vyasa). We are told that the great sage and ganesha had an agreement that they would dictate and write – in one continuous cycle – and to slow down ganesha, the sage had said the god had to first internalize the truths expounded (and believe me the mahabharatha has multi-layered truths as well) and then write it down. This god is truly wisdom personified – but to only those who have moved beyond the need for desire fulfillment and have satisfied their intellectual questions (through an understanding of symbolism). To them there are several moving poems which illustrate the various aspects of this lord and move one to what seem to be calling “the present state of oneness” these days.

Turning the pages of history and mythology

For those who are interested in pedigree – ganesha is the son of shiva (one of the tallest, darkest, most-mystical gods who dwells among the lofty peaks of the Himalayas!) and parvathi (considered the fairest among her kin!). Shiva also epitomizes “the spirit principle”, while parvathy epitomizes “the matter principle” – and hence ganesha as their offspring also symbolically represents the earth and all of what we know.

So in this sense, he is all there is.

Like him for his looks, request him to fulfill your wishes (a year round santa claus if you will), spend time exercising your intellectual muscles and interpreting the symbolism or simply give in to the charm and internalize the wisdom – any which way it’s a win-win. Let’s raise a toast to this most popular of gods on this very auspicious day.

An independence day adventure at Sahaj Marg

I got a chance to attend one of the SahajMarg festivals – an independence day bhandara in their parlance. For those who don’t know, Sahaj Marg is an unique community which serves to awaken people through their system of raja yoga mediation. An experimental blog on some random thoughts and reflections from my experience…

Observances -1

Thousands of people came together all seeking a moment of aloneness with god

They travelled for thousands of miles only to be still

The master spoke words that led them to silence

The madness of the world outside couldn’t deter them from realizing heaven inside

Volunteers, devotees, leaders – all helping, participating, serving a bigger cause of realizing interconnectedness, interdependence, independence

Reflections – 1

Is it faith that moves them?

Or the positive experiences they have had so far?

Can you be lonely amidst crowds, and fulfilled when alone

If your goal is to be here, now and established within yourself – where can you go, when and with whom?

.. a song for them……..the earth revolves, the devotee resolves, his mind evolves, and thoughts dissolve…..and god’s involved? (poetry over!)