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Month: May 2020

It’s (not) only words

“It’s only words and words are all I have to take your heart away…” crooned boy-band heartthrobs Boyzone back in the 90s. And even before that, Rita Coolidge sang the same words in the 70s, preceded by the Bee Gees in the 60s. That is indeed a while back. But the import is not lost.

While the original connotation was romantic, there are practical takeaways for us. The words we use can have a huge bearing on those around us. Especially the words used when one is irate. And I’m certainly guilty of this.

Picture this. A neighbour greets you:

“Hey – it is so good to see you today after a long time – especially during your morning walk! Have a wonderful day”


“Hey – Where have you been?! You go for morning walks? I’ve never seen you at this time before.”

A simple morning greeting, can have profound differences on the other person’s mood and day. As the recipient of the second version above, my impulsive thought was – “Am I being accused?”

There are 2 learnings here for me:

  1. Use words with care. They are like a bag of feathers being released into the wind. Once gone, it is hard to bring back.
  2. Stay unperturbed about the words others use. We cannot control others. But we can control how we react to them.

‘1’ helps us be better human beings amid others. ‘2’ helps us be better human beings despite others.

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Where does the karma go?

Every action we perform, accrues karma. Logged and timestamped in an invisible journal in an unknown medium. What we sow, so we reap. Maybe in this life, maybe in another.

We may not get it back the exact same way. Just like we may never get back the very same 100$ bill that we once deposited, from an ATM machine. But we will surely get 100$.

Vedanta teaches us that a liberated soul accrues no karma.

So what then, happens to the karma from his actions, if it doesn’t go to him?

The wise say that the good karma goes to such a person’s followers and disciples. While the bad karma goes to his naysayers.

How do we use this information? Well, we know appearances can be deceptive. So we may never know who is at what stage of spiritual evolution.

It would hence be prudent (and practical) to avoid being judgemental, argumentative or resentful, of anybody.

We are barely surviving our own bad karma. Why take on additional burden?

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The 8 hour grab

What all did we accomplish in the last 24 hours?

Yesterday I slept 8 hours, worked 8 hours, ate my meals 1 hour, read a book 1 hour, practised piano 1 hour, exercised 1 hour, learned a new skill for 30 mins, meditated for 30 mins, ablutions 30 mins, blogging 30 mins, TV/entertainment/catching up with friends 1 hour, commuting 1 hour.


Yesterday I slept 5 hours, worked 8 hours, ate my meals 1 hour, felt lazy and procrastinated 1 hour, practised piano 15 mins, daydreamed 45 mins, stressed about something 1 hour, planned (my future) 30 mins, re-planned 30 mins, ablutions 30 mins, worried 30 mins, TV/entertainment/catching up with friends 1 hour, commuting 1 hour, and the other 3 hours I can’t figure out where it disappeared.

How do our typical days look like? How much is slipping through the cracks? Is 8 hours of non-work non-sleep time every single day not more than adequate for bettering ourselves?

Time is indifferent to the experiencer.

The control rests squarely in our hands. But only if we have grabbed it.

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I’m tired of this

Scene 1: You are driving home from work. Tired. Really Really Tired. Your boss calls you. “Hey, that client presentation I asked you to finish. It’s too long. Do it again, pronto.” You reach home, and shout at the kids, scowl at the wife, eat dinner in silence and go to bed grumbling.

Scene 2: You are driving home from work. Tired. Really Really Tired. Your boss calls you. “Hey, you did really good this year, I’m considering you for a fast track promotion” You reach home, you hug the kids and the wife, take them out to a nice dinner and come back home and watch a movie.

Notice how the tiredness (something physical) vanished completely, as soon as there was something good to look forward to (something emotional)?

We think we are incapable of many things. But the reality is that we are capable of anything. More often than not though, we are not incentivised enough for going the extra mile. This prevents us from giving our best and limits our potential.

We can stay motivated and incentivized forever though, if instead of waiting for praise (that rarely comes) from others, we give ourselves a few pats on our backs. It is self-fulfilling in nature – because being happy with ourselves, will make others happy with us. And the cycle will propagate.

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I’m confident. Does that make me egoistic?

  • Self confidence: I can do this.
  • Ego: Only I can do this.
  • Self confidence: This is right.
  • Ego: I am right.
  • Self confidence: This is beneficial to many, including me.
  • Ego: This is beneficial to me alone.
  • Self confidence: My thoughts are more important than my body.
  • Ego: My body is more important than my thoughts.
  • Self confidence: Driven by gratitude of what already is.
  • Ego: Driven by fear of what may be.

Which one would you prefer in others? Which one would you prefer for yourself?

If our focus is on the well-being of others, we need not worry about such definitions.

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Lifelong vacation

Oh that awesome vacation I had planned. Pristine beaches. Stunning landscapes. Yummy food. Alas, COVID19 threw my plans into disarray. Surely a lot of us have heard of or experienced this in the last few months.

We all love vacations.

Especially the first 2 of the 5 days. Aren’t they just the best!

Day 3 is spent partially enjoying, and partially thinking about getting back to work. Day 4 has a lot more office thoughts, and lot less vacation. Day 5 is practically a write-off.

Why are only days 1 and 2 the best?

Because that is when we are completely immersed in the moment. There is no thinking about anything else.

But downhill begins therefrom.

What if we could live every single day like day 1 of our vacations? Not think one minute about the future or one minute about the past. But to consciously train our minds to live in the now.

Difficult? Perhaps. But it took us ~50,000 attempts to sit upright as kids or learn to speak or learn to put food in our mouths. All very difficult tasks for a toddler. We did not give up then. We would likely need way lesser attempts now.

A lifelong vacation beckons.

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IDOS – Inside Divine Outside Showtime!

Relationships are complicated.

Not just girlfriend-boyfriend or husband-wife. But all of them! Even boss-employee, brother-sister, brother-brother, sister-sister, and / or among colleagues, parents, siblings, friends, cousins, family members – you name it.

We may do more than our bit, and yet uncover that the other person doesn’t understand our viewpoint or is taking us for a ride. Should we never ask for a pay raise because we prefer to live frugally? Should we always complete work assignments for colleagues, filling in for their tardiness? Should we always let an employee off the hook because of a list of excuses? Should we keep on lending to a friend who’s wasteful borrowing and spending habits appear to have no end in sight?

Being the ‘good people’ – we may just accept our fate and take it on the chin every single time. But we live in a dog-eat-dog world, and we must recognise this. It is important to be nice. But more important to tread each step with common sense.

Is there a simple principle we can use? Sure is!

We can be IDOS, i.e. Inside Divine, Outside Showtime!

We can internally think nice peaceful thoughts, and not intend any malice to the other person. However, it is important to let the other person know our true feelings, while also doing some amount of theatre (aka showtime!) while at it. How else would the other person comprehend what you are going through?

Remember, only the crying baby gets the milk!

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Full steam ahead!

Robert Iger, the ex-CEO of Disney Inc. has a fascinating story in his memoir – The Ride of a Lifetime. After the ouster of the company’s previous Chairman and CEO, the Board announce they will look at possible candidates. Mr. Iger, the best contender for the job, was worried about how he should neither look good at the expense of his ex-boss’ mistakes, nor come across as diffident, something a new CEO would never be selected for.

Which is when a political consultant and branding expert reaches out to mentor him. His advice is not new, yet it is nothing short of golden. He said that Mr. Iger need not rehash the past, and defend or criticize anyone.

Instead, he had to think forward and move forward, definitively.

We are often in similar positions, seemingly handcuffed by things either we did or others did in the past. It doesn’t have to be that way, as long as we decide that history is…history!

Nobody likes someone forever wallowing in the past. What has happened cannot be undone. But in the future lies a great realm of possibility.

We must unshackle ourselves from the past and embrace the uncertainty. Maybe not because we want to. But because there is no other way. At least we can attempt to enjoy the time ahead!

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In others’ shoes

In his 2014 book Hit Refresh, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella talks about his penchant for empathy.

Many years ago at an interview, the interviewer asked him what he would do if he came across a 3 month old baby lying on the street wailing. Mr. Nadella immediately said he would call 911, and the police, and an ambulance, and child care services among other things.

The interviewer told him “Satya, it is a baby, you could just pick it up and cradle it in your arms!”

Hardly something that might strike us isn’t it? What if we could use such empathy in our day to day interactions? We would appreciate others’ motivations and circumstances before flying off the handle.

And none of this is for the other person. Being empathetic will only help us – by retaining control over both, the mind, as well as the tongue.

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When we are by ourselves, we tend to think negative, project a dystopian future, and find faults in our various imperfections.

Wish I was thin or had a better skin or a better chin. Or was taller, and muscular. Or shorter and less muscular. There is no end to this downward spiral.

Researchers recently found that loneliness is as lethal as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

One may physically be in the midst of people, and yet lead a lonely life. Think celebrities, who are inundated by fans (and money) and still suffer from depression. How do we solve this?

Maybe we can attempt to connect with others more. It wouldn’t hurt to smile at a stranger in the elevator for instance. There’s a high likelihood of getting a smile in return! Or we can stay immersed in books, movies, music and art.

Key though, is that none of this is truly external dependent. If we can be lonely in the company of others, maybe we can be unlonely by ourselves.

The mind must be trained repeatedly to accept who we are. Can we be better in the future? Certainly. But for right now, we each are just perfect.

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It is the year 3020.

This blog is no more.

This author is no more.

Everybody reading this blog today is no more.

All the nasty things anyone said about anyone else today, are no more.

All the stress and anxieties we built up today, are no more.

All the work we crammed at the expense of family, is no more.

All the money we raced and fought and killed to hoard, is no more.

But we still want more and more.

Go figure.

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Could it be

Could it be, that we are asked to show devotion to a deity, so that we forget ourselves for a moment?

Could it be, that we are asked to show sympathy to the destitute, so that we forget ourselves for a moment?

Could it be, that we are asked to show gratitude to a benefactor, so that we forget ourselves for a moment?

Could it be, that we are asked to donate to charity, so that we forget ourselves for a moment?

Yes, it could be.

Because spirituality is all about forgetting ourselves to know our true Self.

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Step aside

When does one become ‘senior’ in an organization? Is it when one has 5 years of experience? Or 10, 20, or 30?

There is no right answer. And for good reason. 25-year olds can and do run companies, just as 65-year olds can and do too.

Everybody’s experience levels are different. Just as their skill sets and temperaments are.

Someone with 30 years of experience might be great in a banking role, but a recent graduate with 2 years of experience may far outweigh that experience in a technology role.

But it is good to treat everyone well, senior or junior. For, today’s reportee could well become tomorrow’s boss.

If someone thinks you are not fit to do a particular job, that is only their opinion. And opinions being free, may come and go. If our mental make-up is not strong, we can quickly feel inadequate.

Forget what others say. No Chairman or Founder or CEO was ever born for or accepted in a role de-facto.

We each have the capability to be anything we want to. As long as we don’t let ourselves stand in the way.

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Wooden gold

A traveling storyteller once visited a village. Her story revolved around two men. One, Mr. Perfect, was the most righteous man ever born. And the other, Mr. Terrible, was a villain of the worst kind.

At the end of her narration, she offered the audience to come and pick for themselves from several wooden dolls of both, Mr. Perfect and Mr. Terrible.

No prizes for guessing. Everybody picked Mr. Perfect.

In a nearby village, she told the same story. However this time, she offered the same wooden dolls of Mr. Perfect, but 24-carat golden dolls of Mr. Terrible.

What do you think everyone picked?

Most of our choices are based on valuables, not values.

Is that how we want to be known?

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A Pyrrhic victory

If only I had some more money. And then I could step of out this rat race, pay off my debt, retire early, move to a cabin by the sea and live the rest of my life.

Don’t we all have such seemingly simple wishes? Just a little more money. Let my bank account touch US$ [xyz] or US$ [abc]. And that will be it.

In 1999, a Texan man named Billy Bob got divorced, was alienated from his kids and subsequently committed suicide.

The reason? Just two years before, Billy had won US$ 31 million at the Lotto Texas jackpot. Things went downhill from there. What a reason to take one’s life – snatching defeat from the apparent jaws of victory itself!

We are quite dismal at predicting our own futures. Yes I want 50 million dollars, but everything comes at a cost. Will I be able to handle that kind of money? Where will I keep it? Will the attitudes of those around me change once I have it? Will my own mind be at peace? Can I sleep at night? Or stay worried about keeping the money safe? Will people target me / my money? Do I really even need that much money?

We need to honestly answer to ourselves – what do we really need and what do we really want.

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The Shift

A peculiar phenomenon happens in India.

Even those one would consider to be from a very weak economic stratum – like drivers, maids, laborers and others – can often be seen donating to charity, in whatever capacity they can. Even if they may be able to save next to nothing for themselves.

It begs the question, what ‘rich’ really means. Is it measured by the size of one’s bank balance? Or by the size of one’s heart?

Our lack of happiness stems only from one thing. Our thinking that who we are, what we are, what we do and what we have, is all but inadequate.

Perhaps it is time to shift the frame of reference.

Instead of comparing what we do not have with others, we could compare everything that we have that others don’t. Such as family, work life balance, kids, friends, a spiritual support group, healthcare, a job, good food and countless other blessings, that others may be willing to give an arm and a leg for.

This shift is not for economic satisfaction. This is just for mental peace. Which should be infinitely more valuable.

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Tipping point

Eating at a crowded restaurant in today’s locked-down world might seem like a distant reality.

However, dining out is one of people’s favorite pastimes. The good food, the beverages, the ambience, the music, the company and the professionalism of the staff – all contribute to the ideal culinary experience.

Imagine you just finished a wonderful meal. You tip the waiter 20% of the bill amount. He frowns, pockets the money, and hurries away. You are left perplexed, and frown in return.

In a parallel universe however, he smiles, bows and thanks you for your generosity. You are happy, and can’t help but feel light-hearted.

Which do you prefer?

We each have the opportunity to make those around us happy.

Not everything needs to be transactionary (quid pro quo).

It is not the circumstances (tip amount) that should define the reaction (frown/smile). Rather, the reaction can be upheld, despite the circumstance.

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Good-for-‘ ? ‘

Ever been called a good-for-nothing?

It is not a good feeling. Nobody likes it. But everyone has been called that at some point in their lives – either to their face or behind their back.

It is human nature to oppose something if it doesn’t have (apparent) benefits to us. No wonder we thrive in this age of instant gratification.

But this has also made humans easily distracted, and rarely concerned about the feelings of others.

How do we deal with the naysayers all around us? By focusing only on the message. Not the emotion. Take the feedback if relevant. Otherwise ignore.

Think movies. If a character gets rebuked on-scene, does it affect the actor playing the role? Not in the slightest!

Each one of us is starring in a movie called Life. And we each are good-for-something, if not for everything.

And that is good enough.

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Toy story

Finding our favorite race car toy mangled, or barbie doll ripped apart, when we were 5 years old – was devastating.

Today, at least a few decades older, we can buy many multiples of such toys for ourselves if we wanted to. However, do we?

The toys are the same. But we are not.

Yesterday’s problems, are today’s laughables.

By extension, today’s problems are likely to be non-events in the future. Why then, do we worry laboriously about every passing moment?

Life is easier and most productive when the mind is free from anxiety.

As Buzz Lightyear would say, “To infinity and beyond!”

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Ownership bias

“Sabse bada rog, kya kahenge log”

This catchy and rhyming phrase in Hindi, translates to “The biggest ailment of all, is what will people say [about me]?”

Many an industry, business, career (and fortune) is being made around selling one product alone – ‘social acceptance’.

We tend to be the consumers of this product – via social media, fashion, luxury items, fairness creams (yes that’s a thing!), certain qualifications, many (fake) relationships – among other things.

Nothing inherently wrong with this perhaps. But we must be cognizant of this craze for social acceptance.

Do we own them objects, or do they own us?

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