A master class in Appreciation – Habit Journal Day 14

This afternoon, to my pleasant surprise, Suman appreciated me on LinkedIn for being an “Inspirational Leader”. You made my day, thanks, Suman.

Suman is a special guy. He’s what we call a people leader. Mind you, Suman is not a people pleaser. He takes genuine efforts to understand the people around him and appreciate the excellence they bring to the table. He’s a greatness detective.

I don’t say this lightly. We all leave Digital footprints, and sustained behaviour shows character. Suman’s LinkedIn activity page tells the story best.

A cursory look at his page shows he’s been recognising excellence in others continuously. His notes are personally crafted with custom badges and hashtags. A global leader has earned his appreciation for delivering an excellent presentation. A technical leader who’s displayed emulation-worthy behaviour, a mentor, four team members (each with customised hashtags!) have all been noticed and appreciated. A former colleague has been called out for his creative solutions. The appreciation is universal (it covers everyone – colleagues, seniors, teams, peers), global and unconditional. This is how recognition and gratitude ought to be.

Nice guys don’t always finish last. In the Digital Economy, trust and reputation are our most relevant currencies; and life is a marathon, not a sprint. And in this race, Suman and his ilk are the winners.

Habit journal Day 10 – Add this ritual to your Siesta!

Who doesn’t like a good lunch followed by a refreshing nap – the much-adored afternoon siesta? If there’s one thing, everyone in the world agrees to – its this!

I recommend adding a ten-minute “pause and reflect” pit stop to the break. Half a working day is behind us, and another is waiting in the wings. As such, it provides a beautiful vantage point to view our world, and then get on with the toils of the day. The alternative is to be swept along by the vagaries of the day, and that can be exhausting!

Yesterday, after a long, long time, I practised Madhyanam. This traditional ritual is done every day thrice – at sunrise, noon and sunset. With an eight-hour (or more!) working day, the noon edition is probably less in vogue – but packaged with the siesta, it is a personal favourite!

When you revisit a practice after a long time, you see it with new eyes. What seemed a checklist of things to perform routinely now emerge as deeply meaningful.

The practice reinforces two unique insights.

First, it teaches us to express gratitude for the opportunity to be here at this moment. After all – your birth is a miracle – here’s Bill Bryson explaining it in his inimitable style:

The second insight is about recognising; we have our infinite potential. We understand we are a work-in-progress as far as realising the potential goes. Our behaviours may not be perfect, but we are determined to improve. And it in this context that Madhyanam gets us to ask for forgiveness for acts, thoughts and emotions that aren’t worthy of us. We end up with a resolve to be better tomorrow – not perfect, but better.

Aren’t these great takeaways – Gratitude and resolve for betterment? And what a lovely practice to do every day. If we do this at midday and follow that up with a sumptuous meal and a relaxing nap – life seems a little more wonderous – would you agree?

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?

Which economy do you prefer? Should we make a choice?

Tomorrow is a beloved grandmother’s death anniversary. Hindu customs require one to undertake certain rituals, prominent among them being to symbolically feed three generations of ancestors who are with us no more – as a means of gratitude for what they have done for us and wish them well. It is believed that these rites accrue them good fortune in their future lives – and that is a strong inspiration for the descendants to continue the practice.

As I reflect upon the Hindu life of old, I see that this “gratitude economy” was everywhere to see. Three times a day the sun was (and continues to be in many households even today) honoured for its generosity (at dawn, noon and dusk) – the sun you see just gives – it doesn’t exert itself more for either the millionaire or the saint, anyone can choose to bask in its warmth (or not), and either way it just goes on giving. Nature and the ecosystem were honoured in many ways (through worship of cows, the morning rituals of kolams which become food for the ants and so on), guests were revered and fed without preamble (the apartment culture and urbanization put brakes on this one) and the sages were remembered and thanked forever. The traditional meeting translates to roughly “I salute the divinity in you” (or so I think). Gratitude seems to have been the fuel on which society ran.

Today, we seem to be getting onto the “feel good” economy. We exercise to feel good about our body, meditation is done to make us feel more at peace with ourselves. The friends we keep, the titles we go after – they are all predominantly aimed at ensuring a high “feel good” score. No?

Now, there isn’t anything wrong with either – the gratitude economy seems to bring in a sense of awe for the world (and takes us out of the equation!). The “feel good” economy on the other hand is strongly focused on ourselves and how we interact with the world. We become “awesome” here.

Look a little deeper, and you realize that in the gratitude economy, we have nothing to lose really – it’s just a celebration of what is. Live to serve (and don’t go capturing matrices on how many you thanked or served). Pressure is zilch here but don’t go looking for a sense of personal fulfillment. If our eyes are turned toward a better body or a bigger title, make no mistake – following the gratitude economy alone will leave us unfulfilled.

On the other hand, the “feel good” economy perceives success as a series of milestones achieved – and more often than not these are milestones coveted by society at large. You are one among a million fellow runners in the marathon – and if we aren’t careful (or very good at running) we can start feeling very lonely in a crowded race. Its very easy to adopt someone else’s goals in the “Feel good” economy and feel low when we don’t succeed enough.

And this brings me back to the starting post. Perhaps, it’s best to have a bit of both – and we consciously need to choose the mix that works best for us. Are you more for being the guy who prefers doing “unremembered and random acts of kindness” or the guy who wants to be remembered for living and making a difference?

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?

Happy Pongal….

A festival just for saying thanks to the sun. The sun which nourishes our earth, gives us warmth, stimulates growth and allows us to see and experience life. And expects nothing in return.

How beautiful. A festival of gratitude. Celebrated all over India – the harvest festival is a time of hope, joy and gratitude from a bountiful harvest. It’s celebrated to hail the dawn of a period of light and the end of winter and darkness (longer days as the sun traverses through the northern hemisphere…).

The ancients had it planned thus:
Day 1 – rid yourself of the old and unwanted, declutter your home and paint it afresh and get ready for a wonderful spring
Day 2 – Offer gratitude to the sun and the gods for their benevolence over the year. Cook some newly harvested rice in a pot – let it bubble and overflow – and wish the world a similar year overflowing with the good things
Day 3 – take care of things that made the harvest and a great year possible – cows, (or tracters or cars today!)…whatever. Honor them and thank them for their Contribution.
Day 4 – take the family out on a picnic and let your hair down. Celebrate your achievements.

The framework sound good? It celebrates all that is crucial to our wellbeing – the gods, our tools and work, our family and ourselves.

In the spirit of the ancients, let us offer thanks to – our coworkers, family and friends, the earth and sun – and pat ourselves for having seen through another year – and hopefully with a lot of learnings and success. And let’s raise a toast to the year ahead and wish for light (internal and external) to descend upon us through the grace of our most ancient god – The Sun..