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Month: June 2020

Doing a 10k

In his book Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell talks about the 10,000 hour rule.

He says that if anyone can practise 10,000 hours worth of a skill in any field, that person would become an expert. Practise 10,000 hours of coding and you would become one of the best computer programmers in the world. Or 10,000 hours of piano practise and you would be ranked amongst the best pianists in the world. Presumably, 10,000 hours at my job, would make me indispensable, and likely to be very highly paid and sought after.

Assuming a 10-hour-per-day effort, this would translate to about 3 years.

There are several disparaging articles on this – about how the number 10,000 is wrong, and that it should be less (or more), and how deliberate practise is more important, and so on.

Completely agree, and completely disagree with all those. It doesn’t matter. The important thing is to get started, and then plough on, as much as possible.

Also, in our world today, material achievements abound aplenty. But these laurels mostly leave us feeling empty within.

What if we apply the 10,000 hour rule to spirituality and happiness as well? If we practise charity, practise generosity, practise smiling, practise giving, practise meditation, practise empathy and so on, we will only get better at it.

Let us put our 10,000 hours to good use.

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Old is gold?

We feel good when we help others in need. Especially the really destitute.

We may donate old clothes, or old books, an old cycle, old footwear, old blankets or any other items we would have used before.

This is truly fantastic! But what could be even more so?

Donating something brand new. Something that is not a leftover. Specifically buying a brand new dress and donating it. Or buying a brand new book and donating it. Buying a nice pair of shoes and donating it. With the box and wrapping!

We will not just feel good. We will feel great.

Let us think of it this way. If we were at the receiving end, would we prefer the old, or the new?

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Falling and Rising

The thermos flask I had filled warm milk in last night, had not been closed properly. When i woke up today morning, I accidentally kicked it. Being half asleep, I wasn’t nimble enough to pick up the fallen flask from the ground. 10 minutes later, when the full import of what happened hit me, it was too late. The milk was all over the floor, and the whole area was a sticky mess. It took me an extended bit of (unnecessary) effort to clean everything up.

There were three things I took away (apart from the standard “crying over spilt milk” 🙂 )

Do it right the first time.
If I had only closed the lid tightly (just 1 second more), it would have saved me 20 minutes later.
And if I can think 1 second more, before blurting out something to someone I can never take back. Or if I can do something (like a meaningless office task or home chore that I don’t like) in 1 minute and move on, instead of not doing it and thinking about it for the next hour or more.

Messes happen.
But the cleanup can be much easier if we rush to stem the flow.
It could be picking up a fallen container quickly, or making amends with someone quickly, or apologising for a mistake quickly.

Stand back up to grow.
The flask fell, but that has not diminished its capacity to store more liquid tonight. Far too often, we hit the floor but never stand back up fully. Unlike the finite flask, we can actually grow into bigger and better. But we need to stand back up.

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Do you / did you

  • live on the pavement, with no roof over your head?
  • walk 50 kilometres daily in search of water?
  • skip 1 or more meals a day because you don’t have the money for it?
  • have no formal education because your folks couldn’t afford it?
  • grow up as an orphan in an orphanage a substantial part of your early life?
  • test positive for a terminal illness?
  • enter this world with a devastating physical disability?
  • immigrate to another country in an overcrowded boat with no possessions whatsoever?
  • live in the centre of a war zone with no visibility of survival?

No?

Then why are we sad today?

Even many of those who experience such adversities manage to be happy.

Be forever happy now!

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Alakazam! Hocus Pocus! Abracadabra!

Who wants to see some magic? All hands up I see?

We all want miracles in our lives. But we often look in the wrong places – despite them being all around us.

Just imagine.
A white seed gets mixed with brown soil, translucent water and yellow sunlight to become a pink flower!
A pink organ that was once smaller than a droplet, pumps red fluid throughout the body, for 100 years non-stop!
A brown cow eats green grass and gives white milk!

Aren’t these miracles? They absolutely are!

For such ‘mundane’ miracles, we just need to stop being self-obsessed and look at and observe the world around us.

My own views have changed over the years. Miracles are not about levitation or flying or even these worldly phenomena we have gotten so used to.

A really really really hard thing to change, is someone’s thinking and thereby life, for the better. My Guru did exactly this to me, and improved my life, and the lives of many around me, in unimaginable ways. Such are the true miracles.

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The good, bad and holy

You might have been going through a very tough time. A well-wisher comes up and says to you “This too shall pass”. You’ve heard this a 1000 times before, and don’t like it at all. “Does he even know how grave my problems are right now?”

Let us do one thing. Let’s all create a common whatsapp group. And let’s all post all our problems there. Anyone who wishes, can take all your problems, and in return give all their problems to you. What do you think will be the result of this exercise?

It is highly likely that you will not find even a single taker. Because while our own problems are bad enough that we think only gloom and doom, when we look at others, our problems become meaningless. But we never look at other people’s problems. We only stare in amazement and envy at their growing list of followers and number of likes to their seemingly perfect online avatars.

Life may be cynical. But it is also cyclical. Good things don’t last forever. Because they lead to complacency which then brings downfall. Bad things too don’t last forever. Because having our backs-to-the-wall brings opportunities we would otherwise ignore. The cycle is only broken if one decides to quit midway. But that is too extreme and unwarranted.

It is best to take both the good and the bad with a pinch, nay bucket of salt.

Diving deeper, there is no good or bad. These are only nebulous extremes on a sliding scale of apparent quality created by the mind. Something to ponder upon.

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What’s in it for me? “You!”

Most people are wired to act only if there is a juicy answer to “What’s in it for me?”

I’ll donate two million to so-and-so University, if you give my daughter an admission there. I’ll work weekends, if i have visibility of a promotion. I’ll babysit your kids if you can give me your Xbox for the weekend. Quid pro quo.

“What’s in it for me?” is important for survival no doubt, in the materialistic and capitalistic world we live in.

But the real magic happens when we do things, despite the answer to “What’s in it for me?” being “Nothing”.

Such as? Maybe sending an old friend a bestselling book as a surprise. Or cooking a meal for your neighbour. Or learning and playing/singing a song for your favourite teacher. Or maybe just taking the time out to visit someone elder to you – who meant a lot to you in your childhood – but who you now haven’t seen in ages. There are some easy ones too – praise someone in public (remember the LAP currency?), donate some clothes or be an agony aunt/uncle (i.e. listen).

If every single interaction we have – with friends, family and colleagues could be this way, we will find:
a) amazing inner satisfaction which leads to peace which in turn leads to long lasting happiness, and
b) that we become the most likeable and remembered person amongst all

Even if this might initially seem like a stretch, we can surely start with just one such deliberate interaction every day. Doing something 100% for the other person, with no expectations whatsoever.

Even if the last many decades of our lives may have been relatively inconsequential to others, taking on this exercise can mean that in one year from today, you will have 365 die-hard fans – who will not just thank you, but always think of you and bless you!

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Just starting to pray

When we just start to pray to get time off for our fourth vacation of the year
Let us pray instead for the front-line healthcare workers that get no time off in a pandemic

When we just start to pray for more time to spend with a loved one
Let us pray instead for the soldiers that keep us safe with no guarantee of a return to their own families

When we just start to pray for a bigger and better house for ourselves
Let us pray instead for the destitute living on the pavement

When we just start to pray for a better education or degree
Let us pray instead for that underpaid teacher in primary school to whom we owe much of our success

When we just start to pray for a promotion or bonus at work
Let us pray instead for the family that lost its sole breadwinner

When we get through all these prayers
We will have forgotten everything we wanted
All our troubles will melt away
And we will be left only with gratitude for everything we have

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Report Card: E for Everyone

We are all constantly chasing material progress. And we understand progress. Two houses are better than one, and two million bucks is better than one million.

But what of spiritual progress? Is there a report card?

According to Swami Tejomayananda, there are only two questions one must answer when evaluating one’s own spiritual progress.

  1. How much does everyone want to be in my company?
  2. How much do I want to be in the company of everyone?

Note, that this is everyone. Not a cherry picked group of friends or family members or colleagues that we have a predilection for. Or a specific set of people we detest and wish to avoid at all costs.

Spirituality is about training the mind to accept and enjoy everyone and everything as they are. Even that nosy bothersome fellow at work, or that pesky old neighbour next door, and also that cranky boss who calls you up on the weekends for extra work.

If we are making progress spiritually, we will be courting inner peace, and the answers to 1 and 2 would be ‘very much’, if not more.

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Social mediyuck

Many social media posts show off beautiful photos of food.
Let us remember, a majority of the people on our planet go to bed empty stomach unable to afford a meal.

Many social media posts show off amazing travel stories spanning 40/50/60+ countries.
Let us remember, many people world over have to painfully walk several miles daily just to get drinking water.

Many social media posts show off happy faces and smiling families.
Let us remember, many viewers just recently lost a loved one, or two.

Many social media posts show off brand new college / university degrees and glamorous jobs.
Let us remember, plenty never had the privilege of education, while others just lost their jobs.

Many social media posts show off the silliest of complaints (less cheese in my pizza; no hand towel in my room).
Let us remember, many are forced into the worst of jobs, for survival, and have no complaints box.

Why do we have a compulsive obsessive need to show off our status to the world?
Let us remember, it is only natural for the have-nots to reflect jealousy, sadness and resentment.

Are these the feelings we really wish to invoke in others? Can we not happily enjoy what we have – without insensitively rubbing it in other peoples’ faces?

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The cleanse

A scraggy and scruffy man knocked on the door every weekend. His ask? A few morsels of food for his workday.

His task was unenviable, perhaps even pitiable. Cleaning all the public toilets and septic tanks within his catchment area.

The lady at the door would oblige. Always providing him a decent meal. And also giving him some money to take care of his daughter’s education.

It became fairly obvious that some of this money was being used by him to buy cheap alcohol and get intoxicated.

While others objected with the usual, “He’s not putting the money to good use!”, the lady was firm in her decision to continue her dole outs.

Her rationale? “It is so difficult to even clean one’s own toilet. Here is a man who has to clean 100s of toilets, and that too of others. It is his job yes, but at least he’s doing it well. Maybe the alcohol gets him into a state where he is at least partially unaffected by the stench.”

It is easy to think for ourselves, but often impossible to put ourselves in other’s shoes.

The lady was my wife’s mother. She passed too early. But her life’s actions continue to inspire and live on.

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Wax on, wax off

In one of my favourite movies The Karate Kid, Daniel comes to Mr. Miyagi to learn martial arts. The master however starts him off on seemingly meaningless chores – like waxing his car (a scene famously called ‘wax on, wax off’), sweeping the floor and painting his house. The student is miffed, what with no connection between karate and these actions. Later on though, he benefits from these repeated actions, having built muscle memory and these translating into excellent karate moves!

Yes this might be Hollywood hyperbole, but there is an important lesson for us.

We are always sure that we know best – for ourselves and those around us. And we think there is only one specific path that leads to the result we seek. So much so that we often stop noticing the signs and subtle hints the world gives us. After a break-up, friends come up and say, “Ya I was going to warn you about that guy – I never felt comfortable around him.” Or after being laid-off, “Hey, I always felt that company was shady – something just didn’t add up.”

The reason we do not catch on, is because our egos are so very inflated. We only hear what we want to. We must surrender the ego, but smartly.

We cannot be foolishly surrendering the ego to those who have no interest in our well being. Because we would then become a doormat and let the whole world trample upon us.

Instead, it would be instantly beneficial to surrender one’s ego to a master, a guru, to God, or to a higher power. This will allow the true divinity inside each one of us to come to the fore.

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You’ve nailed it!

Two prosperous neighbouring kingdoms were ruled by two friendly but competitive kings. One day, one of them decided to renounce the world and lead life as a saint. Hearing this, the other king also decided to follow suit.

They each went their own way, with no possessions more than the ochre robes they were wearing. 20 years of hermit-life later, they simultaneously chanced upon a serene river. Both of them decided to take bath there at the same time.

There was only 1 tree in sight with only 1 nail on it, where they could hang their clothes. Both the king-saints started bickering over the ownership of that nail.

An old woman came by and said “Look and learn from the two great kings of these nearby kingdoms – they had renounced everything. And here you two fools are fighting over a silly nail!”

It doesn’t matter if one has physical possessions or not.

True renunciation happens only in the mind.

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A tale of two sitys

The Indian ‘thaali’ is a lovely sumptuous meal. Rice and roti (bread) are served on a large plate, inside which smaller cups pack a variety of items. When prepared well, the thaali can be as nutritious as it is diverse.

But there is a catch to this diversity. We cannot pick and choose the items we are served. A thaali by default comes with a set menu of items only.

Life is like a thaali.

Some events leave a sour taste in our mouths, while others can leave us drooling for second servings. The salty and spicy days make way for the sweet finale. And so the cycle continues.

Just like we cannot eat only dessert for all our meals forever, having only (seemingly) positive outcomes in life isn’t ideal either.

Why? Because if we are to learn and grow, we need adversity. Let us learn to embrace it.

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The Life of P.I.

Pseudo Intellectuals.

We all know who they are. They innocuously troll and post their free-for-all opinions on pretty much every single discussion item in public view. Armed with educational degrees from the great University of Twitter and / or the College of Whatsapp, they are on a quest to rule the world from atop their armchair thrones.

We may not like them. But what if we are one of them? Not on social media. But in social life. Or even in home life or work life. How many times have we passed a comment on someone, only to realise we didn’t care to learn the the complete picture?

We are on the path of mental transformation aren’t we? In which case, it is more about our thoughts and less about our words and deeds.

Everyone is wired differently. Different people have different opinions. And they have a right to have them as well.

The problem comes when we want to assert our influence on everyone else. Wanting to encroach on others is not the same as not letting others encroach unto us.

The latter is fine, the former is avoidable. Only then can inner peace prevail.

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finite is finito

We are all running after finite things.

It might be a pile of money, a CxO title, ownership of a specific car or a mansion with a golf course and so on. There are some things that that pile of money may not be able buy – such as health or meaningful relationships. The CxO title (or any other title) too may have limitations, working well within an organisation or group, but not beyond. As any retiree would tell us, the perks stop with the title.

Can we ever be satiated then with finite acquisitions? Never. And that is simply why we are never happy. No amount of ‘enough’ is ever enough.

Spirituality teaches us to directly seek the infinite. But where is this infinite? Is this just mumbo-jumbo?

No. This infinite is manifested in all of creation. If we can see everything and everyone as part of our core being, but manifested in different forms, then we are on the right path.

But does this logic imply we must invite a murderer home? Not at all. Context is important, and foolishness must be avoided. If there is no life, then there cannot be spirituality or happiness. However, we can surely empathise and appreciate that extreme circumstances may force people to do extreme things.

Likewise, we all have people we cannot get along with. And we know others who prefer to avoid us. Can we consciously and objectively bridge these gaps? Can we train our minds to be happy in spite of the company of such people?

Any efforts in this direction are not for the benefit of said people. They are purely for us – for our own inner transformation. Because with each step of this transformation, we will progress closer to the infinite.

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The other side

In the book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey tells the story of man who enters a subway train with his 2 young kids. The 2 little scoundrels were creating such a racket, but the father had just shut his eyes, seemingly oblivious to the discomfort being caused to other passengers. “What poor parenting”, is the first thought that comes to mind. The author soon realises that the man had just lost his wife to a deadly disease and that they were returning home from the hospital. What an immediate transformation in perspective!

A math teacher gave a child two chocolates and asked how many she had. The child replied “three”. The teacher was angry, only to realise later the child already had 1 chocolate in her pocket!

A supremely successful businessman I know, today seems to have life all nice and dandy. But I learned recently that his mother passed away when he was very young. A few days later, his dad passed away as well, grief struck at the loss of his best friend.

But we rarely know the ‘other’ side, isn’t it?

Dale Carnegie in his iconic bestseller How to Win Friends and Influence People, says that the best (and perhaps only) way to get people to like you, is to take a genuine interest in people and to listen to them with rapt attention.

What golden and eye-opening advice! We do not need an expensive degree or a big title or a lot of money. On the contrary, following these principles, will automatically bring all of these and more.

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The waverer

‘Sama’, an ancient word in the language called Sanskrit, refers to equal, match or plain. It is also very close to the English word ‘same’.

Hindu scriptures often talk of mind control through ‘sama’. Such as remaining mentally balanced or ‘sama’ – in the face of both success and failure. Both pleasure or pain. Both richness or poverty. And so on, for other such pairs of opposites.

Surely this is easier said than done.

Experience tells us that we prefer happiness to sorrow. ‘Good’ events, like having a shiny new car or a good bonus, make us happy. And we want more of these things. Whereas ‘bad’ events, like being stuck with a rickety old excuse for a car, or a so-close-but-i-missed-it promotion, leave us dejected.

But can we say with 100% conviction that what makes us happy momentarily, is what we seek in permanence? Because that shiny new car might be vandalised as it stands out among other older cars in the neighbourhood. Or that missed promotion might make one frustrated enough to quit their job and find their life’s calling in a unicorn- startup.

There is no such thing as good or bad. It is just our mind telling us so, based on its own assessment at that particular point in time. We all know how volatile our minds can be – feeling one way now, and completely opposite a few seconds later.

Why then do we leave the choice of being happy or joyful to such a wavering mind?

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Discounting my self-worth

President Kennedy on a visit to NASA asked a sweeper what he was doing. The sweeper said, “Sir, I’m going to put a man on the moon!”

I asked my friend who is a very successful executive at one of the world’s top management consulting firms what she was doing. She said “Oh, I’m doing the same crap again – making power point slides and creating excel sheets.”

Now i’m not President Kennedy and my friend is certainly not a sweeper (albeit a weeper!). A lot of us are guilty of disparaging our own work. We look at others with envy and ourselves with disgust.

But the following cannot be emphasised enough. Every single person counts. You count. I count. All of us count. However small and insignificant it might seem. Just like the butterfly’s wing flaps that could have implications for a tornado someplace else. And if someone cannot appreciate this, then it is their problem.

And while small is important, It doesn’t mean that we should always stay that way and never aim high. Quite the contrary. We should keep the loftiest goals possible. And do everything possible to attain them.

Let us not entertain thoughts like “Oh, but no one is indispensable, so I’m replaceable”, or “the show will anyway go on, so I have no value” etc. etc. etc. Because that logic is used for putting a ceiling on someone’s ego. Not here in the pursuit of success!

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Food for thought

We feed the birds and the animals near our house every day.

The food is typically some biscuits, seeds, rice or rusks and the like.

Several birds, dogs, cats and squirrels come up for their fill at different times of the day.

Among many things, there is one thing I always admire about them.

No single bird or animal will ever take all of the food we put out for them.

They always leave behind something for the next in line.

They just never hoard.

What do we have to say about us human beings though?

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