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Month: September 2020

Brain drain

There was a girl whose name doesn’t matter
Her life was not handed on a platter
No this is not a love story
But one of hope, dedication and glory

She does Uber Eats home delivery
But was herself delivered with cerebral palsy
26 years old and 10 extra courses after college
Still got her no job, despite all her knowledge

She delivers everything on a wheelchair
Of course she isn’t speedy, now is that fair?
90% of her orders are rejected due to inaccessibility
Tough life, but she always smiles like she’s silly

And us? Oh we worry and stress about some triviality
Without smiling or accepting our reality
Damn them little problems we have in life
What with a perfect body and a brain sharp as a knife

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A place for everything – part 2

Continuing yesterday’s post, as a few more examples come to mind.

The rich kid may own the fanciest car in town, but when it breaks down in the middle of nowhere, only the mechanic can fix it. And even then, only if he’s got the right tools.

The house may be the most beautiful, but when the pipes leak, only a plumber can save the day.

Speaking of saving, nurses are amongst the most underpaid workers, compared to the relevance of their contributions in saving lives. Whether celebrity or politician, when sick, only a nurse will wipe that drool, clean that dressing and administer those injections.

We all expect shopping packages via ’24-hour delivery’. They are made possible only by truckers who drive long distances for many hours, leaving their families and homes for days on end. But who cares about truck drivers right?

Many teachers can educate us about the ways of the world. But only a Guru can dispel the darkness of ignorance.

Undoubtedly, there is a place for everyone and everything. We are all good-for-something, even though others might think we are good-for-nothing.

No one is self sufficient, although a few who have their heads in the clouds may think so about themselves. It is better to remain on earth and adored, than in the sky and detested.

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A place for everything

The CEO is the best person in the organization to deliver a presentation to the Board. But his analyst is the only one who can check the numbers and create his slides for him. And the peon in the Board room? He is the only one who can make tea / coffee to suit the taste of each Board member!

As the saying goes, the razor blade is sharp but it cannot cut a tree. The axe is strong but is not suitable for a haircut.

Hair is great on a person’s head. But it is absolutely ghastly on someone’s plate.

The fastest super sonic jet in the world can take you to your destination before time, but it cannot take you back in time.

Money can buy cars, palaces and even people. But it cannot buy immortality or true love.

Everyone and everything has its place in the world. Including us.

Nobody is useless at everything. And nobody is perfect in everything. We are all dancing in the middle.

If we want to improve ourselves, we can choose to sharpen and use our weapons well – our will power, courage, hard work, humility and self-confidence, to name a few. All of these weapons are within us, available for free, and waiting to be unleashed.

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Can I lead?

When we look at the leader of any nation – be it the President, Prime Minister or King – we expect a few traits:
– Humility and acceptance of the circumstances
– Only meritocracy, no favouritism
– Limited personal wealth, no aggrandizement
– Sole interest is the welfare of the country and its citizens

There are maybe just one or two leaders anywhere in the world today, who have these traits. And they are the ones we look up to.

Notice these are traits of leadership, not of specific people. What is the most important requirement for leadership? The key condition, is to have followers, otherwise who are we leading? 🙂

Irrespective of who we are or what we may or may not have achieved, we are all leaders, as we all have our followers. Our children look up to us, our parents look up to us, our partners look up to us, our friends look up to us, or our colleagues and direct reports look up to us. The list likely goes on and on.

What kind of leadership traits are we demonstrating to all these people around us? Do we deserve their acceptance?

An honest assessment is essential, along with corrective measures if and where applicable.

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There have been many discussions in recent years on the need to reduce working hours. France at one point even adopted a 4 day week. Almost too good to be true, considering many companies still work 6 days a week (work-life-balance, where art thou?).

But if there was a job that only required you to work 12 minutes a day, would you take it? No this is not a trick question. The name of the role, is Medical Representative, or MR for short. It’s similar to the one Will Smith portrays in the amazing movie The Pursuit of Happyness. The MR’s role is to pitch medical products, typically new medicines, or sometimes medical devices – to doctors, so that they may start prescribing them to all their patients.

Here’s how an MR’s day tends to look like:
– The day starts at 8 am if not earlier.
– S/he must be at the office of the first doctor on time.
– Typical wait times in between patients and other competing MRs tend to be around 1 hour.
– Every 1 hour, the MR gets exactly 1 minute of the doctor’s time to pitch their product.
– If the doctor is busy, or preoccupied, too bad.
– And then it is on to the next doctor, who might be far away, so public transport, the commute, rush etc.
– The day should end at 8 pm, but often extends longer.
– Sometimes the shift can be 8 pm to 8 am as well.
– 12 hours on the job, and 1 minute with 12 doctors each equals ‘only’ 12 minutes of work every day.

This is not a bad job, but certainly a tough one. There are many worse jobs out there as well. When we get frustrated about our own work sometimes, it helps to know that things could be much worse. Using that knowledge, we can strive to do our current jobs with a better frame of mind, while also enthusiastically looking for the next big break!

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Scaling up

A few sample expectations we have from others:
Perfection from spouse; quick and effusive approbation from employer; concurrence with our views; trusting us unconditionally; be non-judgemental towards us; respect us.

A few sample duties we typically (must) perform:
Daily chores at home; doing our jobs well; parenting; teaching; donating to society; working hard (office and otherwise) not wasting a single moment; progressing mindfully on the spiritual path.

Here below, on a scale of 0 to 100, with 100 being the best:

What an ideal world looks like according to us:
Have expectations worth 100
Do our duties worth 0

What the wise tell us:
Have expectations worth 0
Do our duties worth 100

Where would we rank ourselves on this scale? Where would we want to be?

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Warming up

My brother and I had visited Georgia in December last year. This is the country Georgia, not the state Georgia in the US. It is an extremely beautiful country, and during the December winter, some of the places we visited were mostly white, covered in snow. But apparently not as white as it needed to be. We stayed a few nights in a town called Stepantsminda. During that time of the year, the town is supposed to be teeming with people who come for skiing. When we arrived there, it felt more like a ghost town. During a specific hiking trip in the snow that travellers had raved about on online forums, we saw no other people for miles and miles as far as the eye could see. Lots of businesses there had shut shop – because of no visitors – because of not enough snow.

Later, we learned this was on account of global warming and climate change. The winter was quite cold as far as we visitors from the tropics were concerned, but apparently nowhere near necessary for ski resorts to function.

The world is heating up. The ice is melting, and water levels are rising. All those articles and videos we read/see are true. In the last Ice Age, when global temperatures were 4 to 7 degrees cooler than today, the city of Chicago was under 800 meters of ice (like an ice mountain)! We are now racing in the opposite direction – on track to become 3 to 4 degrees warmer than baseline, and already about 1 degree hotter than what is ideal. Every half-a-degree increment from now on could have a devastating impact.

What can we do? We can start small. Each of our actions can be guided by the thought “Do I really need this, or is this just a temporary want? Can I achieve this outcome in a better more sustainable way?” The extra minutes under the shower, the ACs, fans and lights running when not necessary, using too much plastic, driving solo instead of biking/walking/car-pooling among other things all add up. It has to be an individual effort from each one of us, but exercised collectively. The earth is not just a planet, it is our mother that gives us our life. We have only taken, taken and taken more from her since our birth – whether food, or water or oxygen. How can we ever give back to her? And will any amount of giving back ever suffice? Never, and what is done is done, but we can at least reduce the intensity of our taking in the future. Just being mindful of our daily activities is a good starting point.

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Weekend choices

Ask an average 55 year old to choose between going to a pub this weekend and going to a satsang (the company of spiritual people), the answer will almost always be the former. A few clever fellows might even suggest having a satsang at the pub – because you know, two birds with one stone.

Give an average 25 year old the same choices. The pick is no different. No one is going to choose satsang, because its ‘not cool’, ya dig?

This is a big problem for spiritual organisations targeting the youth, everywhere! Attendance always drops, because youngsters have other work to do, family callings, alumni reunion, house chores, rest day, sports events – you name your excuse, and it’ll be here. Interestingly, the outcome is often unchanged, whether at age 25, 55 or even beyond. There are two main reasons that come to mind:

1. Lack of awareness: Most people do not understand spirituality well enough – and think it is religion related. And secularism being in vogue, they stay away. Even though this is mostly all about improving one’s mental makeup to face life.

2. Lack of interest: We only like things that we feel are applicable to us. A 25 year old male would love to talk sports but not cosmetics, while a 25 year old female might go on a lipstick shopping spree for 3 hours. Spirituality on the other hand, is uninteresting, and appears irrelevant. Why? Because young people get happy quickly – a new job, a new bike, a new place to stay, a little money earned on the side, a relationship etc.

This is all great. But because life is cyclical, a day will come, when these same possessions will also cause depression, insecurity and anxiety. Today’s point number 2 above will on that day be exacerbated by point number 1. This is why even those who seemingly have everything, have everything but happiness. Let us plan our weekends wisely. No need to stop anything else. But we can add a little satsang, and that is good enough.

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Kit for Kat

Have you ever had Bakeable custard, Chocobanana, Edamame, Cherry, Ginger Ale, Lemon cheesecake, Rocksalt or Royal Milk Tea? Okay yes maybe. But have you had these on twin chocolate bars?

Surely most of us are familiar with the ubiquitous KitKat chocolate bars from Nestle. Whether they are normal chocolate bars or white chocolate bars, they are too tasty to stop with just one. But did you know that there are over 300 flavors of KitKat, including the ones mentioned above? Why have we not seen them around us you say? Because most of these are available only in Japan!

The parent company Nestlé, is known for its coffee rather than its chocolates. Its brands including Nescafe and Nespresso occupy kitchen shelves across the world. But coffee was not a big thing in Japan. In fact Japanese culture always preferred tea. So how would Nestlé introduce coffee? By targeting the right audience of course! In the 1970s, Nestlé began by introducing coffee flavors in candy for children, so that later in life these kids would grow to have a positive affinity to the idea of coffee. In 1970, coffee sales in Japan were almost zero; but today, nearly 50 years later, Japan is the world’s third largest importer of coffee. And it is only in recent years that the KitKat varieties in Japan have exploded. The name KitKat is apparently similar to a Japanese expression “kitto katsu” meaning “Victory will be yours” and is used by students to wish each other luck before their exams. So the good foundations were laid several years in advance of a favourable outcome!

It is said that there are 4 critical components for realising spiritual progress. The first three are 1. A Guru. 2. Scriptures. and 3. Satsang (the company of the wise). Many of us are blessed with these three. But a few meditation sessions plus some satsangs plus some seva for the Guru later, we are already impatient for results. The fourth and most critical component though, is Time. Because spiritual progress too, like all good things, cannot happen without without efforts consistently practised over the years. Just ask someone who has eaten many KitKats over the years, and is trying to lose the extra pounds 🙂

And if you want to get the whole list of KitKat flavors, please hit the thumbs-up button below, and then click here highly recommended!

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Expect the expected

We all know that happiness can come right here right now. We’ve discussed it here on ForeverHappyNow many times already. That is because happiness is nothing more than a choice, and a state of mind. But we still hand over the control aka the choice to the monkey-mind!

There is a huge chasm that exists between our current life and the life that we believe we deserve. The operating word being ‘deserve’. Do you believe you deserve a better pay or a better bonus? Of course! A better relationship? A better house? A better car? A better friends’ circle? The answer is always yes. The image we have of ourselves is often of do-gooders who are somehow waylaid by life, unable perhaps to get to that level of greatness we each think we are so capable of.

And we certainly may be capable of greatness – no denying that. But when we envision ourselves as great people, we also begin to believe that we deserve more than we already have. This comes in the way of happiness because being great is not necessarily the same as being happy. This leads to higher expectations, anxiety and dissatisfaction.

Setting the ‘expectations’ bar very low helps. The great late-physicist Stephen Hawking, famous for books such as A Brief History of Time and The Theory of Everything, was diagnosed with motor-neuron disease. He was paralysed and unable to talk from the young age of 21. His doctors gave him only a few years to live, but as those who have seen his videos and interviews (he could speak only through a computer) know, he was also a witty and humorous person, and lived till the age of 76. An interviewer once asked him, “Are you always this cheerful?”. Mr. Hawking replied, “My expectations were reduced to zero when I was 21. Everything since then has been a bonus!”

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Pay it b/f?

We are all familiar with people who ask too many questions. Whether the school nerd or the nosy (and noisy!) neighbour, there is only so much we can put up with. But this post is not about them. This post is about many righteous good people who ask too less. Not just ask questions, but ask for help in general. Because many times, asking for help is seen as a sign of weakness. The misconception backing this thought is, “I want to be seen/known as a self-made individual.”

But we have got to where we are today, both collectively and individually, only by standing on the shoulders of giants of yore. There are phones with 12 GB RAM today, while entire computers from 3 decades ago barely had 12 MB! We would not have flat screen TVs, if someone hadn’t invented a black & white TV in the first place. The very phrase ‘let’s not reinvent the wheel’ presupposes efforts already put in by several others in the past, using which alone, we are here today.

What often stops the aforementioned righteous folks, is their perceived inability to pay back. The fact of the matter is, we will always be indebted to countless others for many things – at work or otherwise. Our parents for bringing us up, our teachers (and specifically the Guru) for imparting their knowledge, our employers and bosses for recognising our potential and enabling us to grow and likewise for friends, family and others. Therefore, it is impossible to pay everyone back. What we can do, and must do though, is to pay forward. Realising how much we have got, we can try to spread the joy, maybe put in a good word for a colleague, offer counselling / mentoring for students from our alma maters, provide books to the local libraries for free, impart our talents / skills to those around us, among other things.

Once we realise that paying forward is just as good as or better than paying back – we will try to gain the most from others, for selfless purposes, and then selflessly distribute forward. Important to remember, that when we pay forward, we too must expect nothing in return, exactly as those who did for us and brought us to this point.

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Arguing for change

Every realised spiritual master has said that intellectual scriptural knowledge is at best a stepping stone. Therefore there is no scope for feelings of accomplishment or pride, after reading many spiritual books or writing a blog about it. This is because reading/writing/speaking and actually transforming oneself are two very different things. We know from experience that implementing change in our lives is next to impossible, unless life itself forces such a change upon us. Paradoxically, the best of change comes in the worst of times.

Intellectually, we know now we are not the body, but the soul. But is that how we experience our lives daily? There is still plenty of me, my and I. So of what use would this knowledge be? All is not in vain. Objective valuation (which we touched upon here) will help us see the world as it is – filled with pairs of opposites like pain/pleasure, day/night, good/bad etc. And that it is ephemeral and largely inexplicable.

More importantly, the biggest leaps in spiritual (and material) growth occur when we accept and focus on changing ourselves instead of the people around us. It is impossible to get along with everyone for everything, because everyone is entitled to their own views. It’s not just the varying views of others, but we ourselves may hold differing beliefs and perspectives at different points of time in our lives. The questions we can ask ourselves in times of conflict is, “Does this really matter to me? What will change if the sofa is placed there than here? What will change if the car color is white than black? What will change if I agree to do it my boss’ way rather than mine? What will change if we go for dinner where my spouse wants to go rather than where I want to go?” Hopefully, the answer will be ‘no’ or ‘nothing’.

One can argue that being docile all the time will only lead people to take us for granted, and that is absolutely true. But we must pick the battles we fight, without losing (sight of) the war. In most cases, keeping the relationship, the job and the peace of mind is infinitely more important and beneficial than losing the TV channel, working an occasional weekend and constantly trying to prove a point.

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So my phone’s Bluetooth decided to bail on me. My job requires me to attend a lot of (way too many actually!) office calls and so Bluetooth earphones are important. I had no choice but to look for another phone. With a budget (literally!) in mind, I hit up Amazon. Only to realise that shopping for a phone is a very very hard thing for a someone dabbling in spirituality! Sense control? Desire control? Expectation control? Not here, my friend. One look at the options available, and anyone can develop instant vertigo.

6GB/8GB/12GB RAM? 64GB/128GB/256GB capacity? Snapdragon 730, 720, 645, 885, Helios, Exynos something GPU something Octa hexa deca core? Supercooled, ultracooled, vaporcooled, hypercooled? 5MP, 2MP, 32MP, 64MP, 108MP front/back/side/up/down f/1/2/3/4/5 aperture cameras? 4G, 4G+, 5G, LTE, LTE-a? Fingerprint scanner under the glass or at the back or on the side power button? AMOLED, superAMOLED, infinity, retina, LED, LCD, 120 Hz, refresh rate something something this that this that this that.

And these are only the main features. Go one technical layer further, and it is like going down a rabbit hole. Every day, a new phone is launched. Every, single, day! And there are special lightning deals and sales. Also no phone will ever have all the features you need. And if it does somehow magically have 8 out of the 10 features you want, the price will exceed your budget. And when you decide to up your budget just a little more, you’ll come across a whole new range of options and specifications at that new price point. And then there’s the alphanumeric soup a21 b22 m51 c71 o2 f17 r2 g2 6t 8t i11 s7. Did I leave out the pluses, pros, notes and ultras? Phew, I need to find a seat!

Even the greatest of spiritual aspirants can be sucked into this world of dazzling tech. All for what? Just the simple ability to speak to a fellow human. Can’t help but see the similarities to life. All we need is to be peaceful and happy. For which we need a handful of food thrice a day, and a roof over our heads. But we’ve complicated life so much for ourselves, that no matter the plethora of options, we are always left wanting more. No situation will ever be perfect. If it appears so, then it probably requires a compromise at some other level, not unlike a better phone that exceeds our budget. The best way is to enjoy whatever we’ve got, phone or otherwise. The true happiness lies within, to connect to which, no phone will work, and ironically no phone is required.

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Reaching out

How many people, from anywhere in the world, are thinking about you this very moment? Chances are, that if you are not a celebrity, then probably no one is. Or maybe one or two of your closest loved ones might be. But that too, just for a few seconds. And no one can be blamed for this apparent lack of caring either. Because lets face it, everyone is busy.

But imagine, if out of this planet of ~8 billion people, at least a few of them had us at the top of their minds. Not for anything selfish, not because they wanted something from us, but just like that, because they really cared. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

Sure would. Sadly, there is no foolproof way to make others think of us. But there is one way to at least increase our odds. It is through the power of reaching out. Ever seen a dog wag its tail when his owner comes home after a long day’s work? The dog can barely contain its excitement. People love dogs chiefly because of this outstanding greeting as soon as they get back home. There are literally thousands if not millions of YouTube videos capturing exactly this moment! It can take away the troubles of an entire day. The dog cares for nothing else, except to see his owner. No ulterior motive. Just his need to make his owner feel special.

If you are at someone’s house for dinner, and go the extra mile to put your plates in the sink, or clean the table after the meal, it shows that you care. If you send a book to someone, or flowers or sweets or cook a meal, that can say a lot too. Even just jumping out of your seat to help – maybe to make tea, or pick up a towel from the floor, are small actions that can go a long way in showing those around you that you care. I was once in the audience where the speaker started coughing a bit. And then he continued to speak, and then coughed a little more. And then spoke more. Just the usual coughs, nothing out of the ordinary, and everyone continued to focus on the speaker and his presentation. But one person to my right got up and left the room. He was back 2 minutes later. Where had he gone? He had gone to get hot water for the speaker! Now that is a brilliant example of reaching out! If we truly ‘reach out’ to others, with no malice and no selfishness, their hearts will be warmed, and they will remember us forever. The secret is not in living, but in living for others.

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Discrimination is good!

If someone shows off their shiny new US$ 1.2 million Ferrari, contrary to perception, it tells us nothing about that person’s real wealth. What it surely tell us though, is that today that person has US$ 1.2 million less in their bank account!

Why does that matter? Because we think wealth is a sign of success. It might be, but success is not happiness. According to the very interesting book ‘The Budget Deficitby Stephanie Kelton, 40% of Americans can’t pony up even just US$ 400 if faced with an emergency situation – which is just unfortunate and sad. If this is the case for America, what about the developing world?

Okay, let us assume there is enough money for survival. But using that money well? That’s a different story! There are phones in the market today that cost US$ 2000! For just a phone. That number is the same as the annual per capita income of many countries. Unbelievable isn’t it? What would the value of the same US$ 2000 phone be 3 years from now? Most of the features would be totally outdated. Except calling – which is the real reason for buying a phone in the first place. Of course, duh, no one buys a phone for calling anymore. Cameras, gaming, computing power and myriad other reasons exist. Fair enough. But why are people falling over each other (and racking up credit card debt too) to buy 5G phones, when 5G networks aren’t even ready yet where they live?

There is a sanskrit word called vairagyam. It loosely translates to dispassion, detachment, or renunciation. As human beings, we have the ability, no, in fact the power, to discriminate. But we waste it in discriminating against our fellow humans. What if, we could instead discriminate among the things that are worth doing, worth knowing and worth gaining? Choosing experiences over objects. Choosing real relationships over phones. This is the true vairagyam! It is not about renouncing everything. Rather it is about ensuring that no matter what mobile phone we have or do not, or what car we drive or do not, internally we remain at peace.

And here is where ‘valuation’ – primarily a concept in finance and investing – can be applied in real life. If we learn to look objectively at everything around us in the world, and identify whether these really give us lasting happiness, we will not despise anything, but rather value those things. Do we really need that car? Or do we need it only to show off to our neighbours? Honest valuation will bring clarity, which will help us discriminate the necessary from the wasteful.

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Why a live Guru is paramount

People often ask, “Is it not enough to read scriptures and get knowledge from them? I read for many hours a day. Why do I need a living Guru?”

A man who had never seen a cow before or drank milk, heard about cows from his master. “White color with brown patches, relaxed animal, four udders for milk, two tiny horns, two flappy ears, a bushy tail and a cow gives white liquid called milk.” Armed with this information, he set out to find this interesting animal, and came upon the statue of a cow. Nearby, some painters were whitewashing the barn. The man put two and two together, and drank up the white colored paint thinking it was milk. To say his stomach went for a toss would be an understatement. When he accosted his master angrily, the master coolly replied “If you had milked the cow yourself, you would have had no trouble!”

Thus there is no substitute to being mentored by someone who has had direct first-hand experience of the Divine.

Further, it is important to be in the physical vicinity of such a Guru. Having a ‘paper guru’, or one who is on the altar in a paper photograph alone, is of limited use. Why? Because knowing our monkey-minds, we might continue to commit all sorts of blunders, and will fool ourselves that everything we are doing is perfectly alright. Having a live guru may not always be pleasant – but only when he points out our mistakes and corrects us, would we be able to get rid of our ego. And as we are well aware, giving up the ego is the most important requirement for spiritual perfection.

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Game of chairs

Senior Analyst
Senior Associate
Assistant Vice President
Vice President
Senior Vice President
Executive Vice President
Chief Executive Officer
Managing Director

It might take a good 40 years of one’s career to go from intern to chairman. No mean feat, by any stretch of the imagination. 40 years of pure hard work, blood, sweat, tears and then some. Not to forget, all the missed parent teacher meetings, kids parties, family outings, social gatherings etc etc etc.

All is well. As long as one remembers, the status and respect come with the chair – the seat – the title. Even just one day after retiring as Chairman, no one will look at you. No interviews, no papers to sign, no meetings to attend, no fancy office cars, or secretaries to manage your calendar. Same thing for any other role. Retiring as President of the USA? A new person has already replaced you. Ok bye-bye! Such is life.

As we live our hectic lives, it would be great to deeply acknowledge and understand this game of chairs. One legacy we can leave behind is the work we do, not the titles we hold. The best legacy to leave behind though, is to leave people feeling happy. For which ironically, no chair is required!

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Our actions – part 2 of 2

Yesterday we explored principle 1 of karma yoga – which is to renounce the fruits of our actions. Employing this principle reduces anxiety and increases efficiency – without physically giving anything up.

Principle 2 refers to giving up doer-ship. What does this mean?

It is said that each of our actions accrues karma. Somewhat like Newton’s 3rd law of action-reaction, but applicable everywhere, not just to motion. Do good, and good will come to you. Ditto for bad. The good and bad we are experiencing today is the result of our past actions – this birth and many countless other reincarnations till now. The life and world we are living in now is considered ‘bonded’ – as we continuously go through ups and downs. Can we get out of this cycle once and for all?

Absolutely, and that is what principle 2 is about. On the face of it though, giving up ‘doer-ship’ seems impossible. Because if I am working in office, then I am the doer (employee). If I’m driving then I’m the doer (driver). If I’m eating, then I’m the doer (eater). How can I give this up? If I somehow give this up, then would I not be the doer anymore?

Great questions – and karma yoga never says anything about giving up the actions themselves. Only giving up doer-ship of the actions, which means parting with the mental notion “Hey, it’s me. “I” am the great (wo)man that did this. And also that and that and that!” When we identify with ‘doing’ things, we accrue karma, which means we continue to be bound to this cycle of re-births. Why? Because our actions spring forth from desires (“I want a promotion”), and this leads to attachment. And herein lies a clue!

To give up doer-ship, we must give up our selfish desires, and instead focus on the ‘greater good’ and ‘welfare for all’. For instance, when we work in the service of others, especially under the guidance of a Guru, there is no question of doer-ship, as we are not doing anything for ourselves, and it is all only the Guru’s vision manifesting itself. When viewed objectively, we will realise that we are all part of a grand plan, and that by ourselves, we really cannot do much at all. Even the energy required to write/read this blog post is not coming from us – but rather borrowed from food/nature. So we are already not the ‘true doers’, but our egos make us think we are infinitely more significant than we actually are.

Note again, that this orientation is more mental than physical. So do not fill your upcoming self-evaluation form at work as “I am not the doer, and therefore do not need a promotion.” Common sense must prevail!

When both karma yoga principles are applied together, and consistently in everything we do, we will find that work truly becomes play.

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Our actions – part 1 of 2

In the quest for moksha or liberation, one can take many paths. The path of knowledge, the path of devotion, the path of meditation etc. are some of the ways to the same goal. The easiest and most identifiable path in this day and age though, is supposed to be the path of action, also known as karma yoga.

There are 2 very specific principles of karma yoga, and these often cause much confusion in their applicability.
1. We must give up the fruits of our actions.
2. We must give up the doer-ship of our actions.

What does this even mean? We will explore the first principle now, and the next one in tomorrow’s follow up post.

Let us say we have a bright chance of getting promoted at work. This entails putting in our best work for the next 6 months. How much of our time over the next 6 months goes in actually working, versus in worrying about the result? It is likely that many of us dissipate a lot of our energies stressing about that which is not in our control. We cannot control the promotion cycle or evaluation cycle or the management team that has to vote on the promotions or the macro environment or the overall profit / loss of the company or the number of other candidates that deserve promotions or even whether your recommending officer (i.e. your boss) would still be with the firm! There is only thing we can control however, and this is the quality of our own work.

The first principle of karma yoga drives home precisely this point. Irrespective of what you are doing (studying, giving an exam, working, driving, eating, anything!), focus on doing your best, and forget about the end result. This forgetting about the end result, is called giving up the fruits of our actions. The less the worry, the more the enjoyment of the work at hand, and thereby better the quality of output.

Last but not the least, giving up the result does not mean we say ‘No’ to a promotion if we get it, as that would only be foolish! But we do not need to be mentally ‘bound’ to the promotion either, especially while doing the work. If the promotion does not come through, we can either try for one next time, or look for another role. Part 2 tomorrow!

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A celebrity passed away in a hospital recently. It was a government hospital, not a private one. He was shifted from one to the other, as he did not have money to pay for his treatment at the more expensive one. Nobody stepped forward to help him at the time.

However, soon after his demise, many of his peers took to Twitter to announce their ‘grief and shock’, and some have said they would “take care of his family”, “educate his kids” and what not.

Some might ask, “Where were these people 15 days ago?”

Don’t worry, this is not a long rant on social media. This is life. So what can we take away from this?

  1. Nobody cares. Or at least most people don’t. Or maybe they do, but they are just so caught up in their own mess that they rarely help sort out other people’s problems. It doesn’t make them bad people. Maybe. So instead of being upset, we can take it in our stride. Not for anyone else, but for our own peace of mind.
  2. No matter how much you may help others in this life, you may still leave here in unexpected, and unenviable ways.
  3. Money and fame – that which we covet the most today, could be gone tomorrow.
  4. Health is the real wealth. But hardly anyone wants to be rich in health. But we can buck that. And we can start right now.
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How to sleep like a baby

Here’s an amazing sleep trick we can all practise daily. Only 2 steps to it:

Step 1: When you hit the bed and are about to sleep, recall 2 or 3 things that happened in your day, that you are grateful for. It could be about some of your favourite food you ate, a friend who helped you, the affection your pet showered you with, the fact that you are alive, the fact that you have a home and a bed to sleep on, and / or any other thing.

Step 2: Feel light. Forget all the problems that that you need to deal with tomorrow and day after and thereafter. All those will take care of themselves in time. Just relax in the moment. Keep repeating to yourself that everything is fine. “As of this second, everything is fine. When I sleep, I am leaving behind all my problems.” Smile, and feel happy.

Very very simple things to try, and each one of us can do it, without exception.

Try it out, and see the difference in the quality of sleep!

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Waking up

Here is a story, which needs an answer from each one of us, so please pay attention.

There are 2 beggars Ram and Shyam sleeping on the road. Shyam starts dreaming. He dreams about him becoming a big businessman, and then amassing a lot of wealth. One day, a band of robbers accosts him, and take away all his wealth. He starts to chase them, and scream out loudly to everyone around to help him. “Help! These robbers are taking away all my wealth. Help! Chase them. Help!”

The dream appears so vivid and so real to Shyam, that he starts screaming in his sleep, “Help me! Chase the robbers. Help me! Catch the robbers!

Ram, who is sleeping next to Shyam, wakes up at the commotion, and realises that his friend Shyam is shouting because of the events in his dream.

The question now to us is, what should Ram do? Should he get up from bed and chase the robbers that Shyam is screaming about? Or should he wake Shyam up and tell him he was just having a bad dream?

No doubt you will agree it must be the latter!

This is exactly what our Guru tells us as well. We are all asleep, and dreaming about more and more materialistic body-driven pursuits. The Guru is trying to awaken us to a reality that is infinitely and permanently blissful. But we prefer to stay dreaming. Do our actions make sense? We must ask ourselves.

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The Matrix

Our scriptures say that all of creation is an illusion. That it is unreal, fleeting and impermanent. As human beings, it must be our one-pointed goal, that we come out of this delusional existence. But this cannot be done alone. We need the guidance of a Guru.

A guru is not a mere teacher. He doesn’t simply help transfer worldly skills, although he may very well impart those too.

The defining characteristic of a Guru is that he is the only one who can dispel the darkness of ignorance.

Ignorance of what? That we are the body, mind and intellect, when actually we are not.

All of this can seem daunting at first. Somewhat like how Neo (played wonderfully by Keanu Reeves) felt, when he was first accosted by Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne, brilliant!) in cult favourite The Matrix.

But once Neo chose the red pill (unpleasant truth) over the blue, he realised his true nature and purpose.

The choice was his to make, just as it is ours to make. We are all cooped up inside a Matrix world of sorts, ignorant of what the greatest minds ever, have instructed us.

In our case, we think we are all enjoying the blue pill already. But think of all the problems we go through in life, and then have a rethink. Are we really enjoying?

Maybe the red pill is the real blue pill. Time to follow the Guru’s advice.

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Living in uncertainty

Spirituality is often misunderstood. It is neither about spirits nor about rituals. Rather, it is simply about accepting life as it comes, without being affected by it. While reading about this on a blog might make it seem all too easy, implementing this is the hardest thing in the world.

Imagine you are in the midst of a lecture, addressing a group of students. Suddenly you get a call, and are informed that a loved one has just passed away. What would your state of mind be? Would the whole world just come crashing down in an instant? Yes, highly likely. But not for my Guru – who just continued his lecture as though nothing had happened. This is not to say he has no feelings. Far from it, because he is the most empathetic human being I have ever come across. He used to whimsically take his car out on extremely hot days, so that he could pick labourers up, give them a bottle of water to quench their parched throats, and drop them where they wanted to go. These labourers would otherwise spend hours walking under the scorching sun, almost having their skins peeled off. But my Guru is able to beautifully practise what he preaches – that there is an innate futility of linking ourselves to our material body and possessions.

Living in uncertainty alone is spirituality, as he says. And this is not only in the case of bad news. For good news too, practising restraint is extremely difficult. Imagine someone comes up and says you got a special out-of-turn promotion and bonus that you never saw coming. We quickly take credit for the entire success, and sometimes go so far as to think, “Good, but this itself was a bit late – it should have come last year itself.” Such thoughts never keep us grounded, and our own ego gets in the way of progress. For the good events in life, my Guru credits 100% of the results to God / super-consciousness / Nature / Creation. This too is not because he doesn’t enjoy the moment. Far from it. He revels in every moment – even just while breathing the air around him. However, he realises that revelling too much can only bring attachment, desire and downfall therefrom.

Many seekers nowadays take to spirituality hoping that its various practises will bring them success. In reality, spirituality may not bring success. But it surely prepares the seeker to handle success. And also failure.

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Branching out

A man paid a princely sum to buy two falcons. These were special falcons, that could fly higher and faster than any other. When he took them back to his mansion and let them loose, one flew high and fast. The other just went and perched itself onto a nearby tree.

The man tried shooing the sitting bird, shouting at it and prancing around but to no avail. The falcon just wouldn’t fly. He called the seller angrily and asked for half his money back, as only one falcon had taken to the air. The seller calmly said “Tomorrow, I will fix the problem.”

The next day, when the man woke up and came out of his house, he saw both falcons flying high and fast. He was ecstatic, but also puzzled. He immediately called the seller, and asked “How did you make the falcon fly?”. The seller replied, “It was easy, I just cut off the branch on which the bird was sitting.”

A look back at each of our lives would suggest the same thing. Maximum growth has always happened when our backs were to the wall, when the chips were down, and when the branch underneath us was ripped away.

Applied differently, Chapter 15 of the Bhagavad Gita (the best and most practical version here for free!) likens the whole world around us to be an inverted tree. We are at the fringes of the branches, having forgotten the roots where we came from. The tree (creation) is impossible to understand, even though we spend a lot of time trying to. The only way out of this tumultuous inexplicable experience of life is to cut the branches (our attachments, desires, ego) and return to the Source.

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Time travel

Since time immemorial, (wo)man has always enquired about two things.
1. The past, before this life
2. The future, in this same life

Both of these questions can be answered to a good extent, by a good astrologer, assuming accurate birth data are available. Astrology can indeed be useful to help prepare the mind for what is to come – both good and bad.

However, time travelling through astrology can often lead us to not revel in the current moment. Why?

Let us say we need to present a very important deliverable at work. It will take 1 week of intense preparation, and we are absolutely enthused about it, given this could be a career-defining moment. However, if we knew in advance, that the presentation would not be well received, or that a colleague would outdo us, or the manager would change, or the client would not go ahead with the suggestion, it is highly likely we will not put adequate effort into making the presentation in the first place. If we knew in advance that a relationship would not last, we would not get into it in the first place. If an entrepreneur knew their company was going to shut down after 2 years, they would never ‘start-up’ to begin with.

And therein lies the problem. We are conditioned to believe that success is the endgame. But it is not. Learning or growth is the real endgame. And all the actions that bestow so-called ‘failure’ are what toughens us up for the future.

Likewise for the past. What are we going to do by knowing we were a king or a great sage or Krishna’s consort in an earlier life? Spirituality teaches us to eschew all identification with our body/mind/intellect. Liberation comes from renunciation. Why add additional layers from past lives?

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Focus Pocus

In the age of news shorts, 10 second video clips, vanishing snap-chats, 20 minute food deliveries and 45 second blog posts (does the last one seem familiar? 🙂 ), it is no surprise that our collective patience levels have dropped considerably.

With such limited patience, it is hard to stay focused. Jack Ma of Alibaba fame gives the example of a task that requires catching 1 out of 9 rabbits in a room. Easier said than done, as the furry fellows scramble like mad across the room. The difficulty arises because the catcher keeps shifting focus from one rabbit to the next depending on how close the rabbit is. If one jumps away, the catcher locks in to the next, and then the next, eventually ending up with none.

Our daily lives too tempt us with multiple opportunities. This work, that work, this book, that book, this song, that song, this class, that class, this movie, that movie, learning this, learning that, this restaurant, that restaurant. Oh so many options!

It would help to lock targets on one rabbit, on one task, and expend energies on that goal, for that period of time. Multi-tasking is good, but 60 minutes dedicated to one task followed by 60 minutes to another is always better than 60 minutes of attention simultaneously allocated to ten tasks (rabbits).

Interestingly, we never lose focus when watching Netflix or our favourite sports games, do we? Nothing wrong in taking some time off to enjoy these at all. But also good to remember, that in a way, we are paying to watch these people do their jobs. How many people are paying to watch us do ours? The stars and celebrities got to where they are by focusing on their lives and building their skills. We should do the same, till we get a paying audience.

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What matters

Doesn’t Matter: The amount of money in the bank account.
Matters: The amount of compassion and empathy for others.

Doesn’t Matter: The size of the house.
Matters: The size of the heart.

Doesn’t Matter: The number of likes on social media.
Matters: The number of true friends.

Doesn’t Matter: The number of books one has read.
Matters: The wisdom one has applied in their lives.

Doesn’t Matter: The number of degrees one has.
Matters: The number of people one has impacted positively.

Doesn’t Matter: The status / title one enjoys.
Matters: The work one does for others irrespective of the title.

Doesn’t Matter: The accent / fluency in a language.
Matters: The sweetness of the thoughts behind the words.

Doesn’t Matter: The renunciation of all material possessions.
Matters: The renunciation of all material possessions by the mind.

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About half of our working lives is spent at/for work. If you are in Asia, then the hours are probably more. And if in Europe, then probably less.

But work can be challenging for anyone. Those with long hours may be enjoying their work. While for some, even with a 4 day week, a bad boss can make it feel like a 7 day ordeal.

What to do, when those Monday morning blues are terrible? And we absolutely hate going to work?

There are only 2 things to be done:

1. Find a way to enjoy our work. Of course this is very hard. But not enjoying our work will only make things worse. So how do we do this? We must force ourselves to smile and laugh, even if only at our predicament. We can also look for the bigger picture. Instead of feeling underpaid and hating the administrative / secretarial aspects of our work, we can identify the higher purpose. For instance, every employee in a bank can think they are working towards improving peoples access to financial security. Every employee in a pharma company can visualise their work enabling society to stay healthy.

2. Find a new employer. Just because motivation and self-help books keep talking about point 1, doesn’t mean we should stay there forever! This is also applicable to other unpleasant things in life. We may not be able to control the circumstances that we find ourselves in already. But that does not mean that we need to wallow in those circumstances permanently.

The key is doing BOTH of the above. Not just one. Most often we only do one. If we do both, they will reinforce each other, and soon enough, success will find us.

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There’s a theory that cockroaches can survive nuclear radiation. That’s truly fantastic – and they have a one-up on us humans. But do you think a cockroach knows and understands this distinct capability?

Did you know that dogs are amazing at math? Throw a frisbee and see how he intuitively calculates the trajectory of the incoming disc, and is able to launch himself at just the right angle and at just the right time. Now try explaining the trigonometry and physics involved to the dog. Woof!

An archerfish can from underwater, shoot a jet of H2O from its mouth – aimed perfectly at an unsuspecting insect perched atop a nearby plant. The insect falls into the water, and…yummy meal! How about engaging the archerfish on a conversation about how it perfectly applies complicated calculus into practise!

As human beings, there are many many things we do not understand (like gravity!), but that doesn’t make them fake or non-existent.

We each too have a superpower. This superpower is lodged deep within us, and is our true nature. Just because we cannot summarily understand who we are, doesn’t mean that we are incapable of harnessing this greatness. It will require some work and some faith.

When one goes within, all the problems of the outside are handled with ease.

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