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Category: attitude

Best for worst swap

Would you trade your best day for someone else’s worst? Seems like such a stupid question isn’t it. Of course you wouldn’t. And it would be senseless to expect anyone else too either, right?

Picture this.

Here are your worst days. Followed by someone else’s best days. [But they will trade their best days for your worst!]

  1. When you made a bonus of only 100 in a year. The other person added 1 to bring their net worth to 10.
  2. When you didn’t get the promotion you thought you deserved. The other person got a clerk job 3 years after being laid off with no work.
  3. When you couldn’t travel to the country of your dreams for vacation. The other person got a chance to visit her family back home after 3 consecutive years of work as a maid in a foreign land.

When someone is willing to take our worst days and give us their best, what does that say about one’s attitude to life?!

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Analogical – part 4 of 5

More brilliant analogies from the wise ones, continued below:

18. The Sailing Boat and Wind: Like boats sailing with the wind, we journey through life with the divine wind of grace.

19. The Firefly and the Sun: As the sun dims fireflies, ego diminishes in the radiance of spiritual awareness.

20. The Needle and Thread: Similar to threading a needle, enlightenment requires focused awareness and effort.

21. The Seed and the Tree: Just as a tiny seed contains the promise of a mighty tree, our souls hold latent potential for spiritual growth.

22. The Pot and Space: Much like pots occupy space, the soul resides within the body while transcending its limits.

23. The Ocean and Waves: Just as waves emerge from oceans, our experiences arise from the boundless sea of Reality.

24. The Gem and the Dirt: Like a gem’s brilliance unaffected by dirt, the soul remains pure amidst life’s impurities.

Final set of analogies concluded tomorrow!

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Analogical – part 2 of 5

More common analogies continued today:

7. The Sun and Clouds: Like clouds momentarily veiling the sun, ignorance can obscure our inherent brilliance.

8. The River and Ocean: As rivers merge into oceans, the soul dissolves into boundless consciousness.

9. The Garden and Weeds: Just as a garden thrives with weeding, we nurture positivity while uprooting negativity.

10. The Dream and Wakefulness: The Gita’s wisdom unveils the illusory nature of the material world, much like dreams upon awakening.

11. The Fish in Water: Just as fish thrive in water, souls flourish in the vast expanse of divine consciousness, revealing our inherent connection.

Analogies continued, tomorrow!

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Action value – part 2 of 2

What else on action?

Vinoba also suggests that action should be offered as a sign of reverence, not as a payment or a duty. He gives an example of dakshina, which is a gift given to a teacher or a guest as a mark of respect. He suggests that dakshina is not measured by its amount, but by its sentiment. He says that water is sprinkled on it before it is given, to symbolize the feelings in the heart of the giver. He quotes a verse from Manusmriti, which says that a student can give a flower, a fan, a pair of sandals, or a pitcher of water to his teacher, as long as he gives it with devotion. He suggests that such a gift becomes priceless, because it is charged with love.

Vinoba illustrates this point with the story of Rukmini and Satyabhama, two wives of Lord Krishna. Satyabhama tried to weigh Krishna with heaps of gold ornaments, but failed. Rukmini put a single leaf of Tulsi (a sacred plant) on the scale, and it equaled the weight of Krishna, because it was full of devotion. Vinoba says that this is true of the actions of a karmayogi too. A karmayogi is one who performs selfless and desireless actions as an offering to God.

But there are so many actions to perform. How to choose? Simply what the Guru suggests, which will invariably involve providing maximum benefit to maximum people.

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Action value – part 1 of 2

What determines the value of an action?

Is it how much or how well it is done? Is it the result or the motive?

Here are some excellent insights from a book called Talks on the Gita by Vinoba Bhave, a follower of Mahatma Gandhi and a pioneer of the Sarvodaya movement. He delivered these talks in a jail in 1932, when he was imprisoned for joining India’s freedom struggle. He spoke on the Bhagavad Gita, one of the sacred Hindu scriptures, that guides us towards living a meaningful and fulfilling life.

Vinoba compares action to a stone, or a piece of paper. It has no value by itself, unless it is filled with feelings. He gives an example of a letter from his mother, which had only a few lines, but was priceless to him, because it conveyed her love and care. On the other hand, another letter that had fifty pages, but lacked any emotion, was worthless to him. He suggests that action should be infused with the warmth of feelings.

What else? Concluded tomorrow!

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Escape and not – part 5 of 5

In a world often driven by materialism and self-interest, Eddie Jaku’s words serve as a refreshing reminder of what truly matters. In his memoir, “The Happiest Man on Earth,” Eddie shares a profound lesson he learned from his father: “Kindness is the greatest wealth of all. Small acts of kindness last longer than a lifetime.”

Eddie’s father emphasized that kindness, generosity, and faith in one’s fellow man are more valuable than any monetary wealth. This lesson became a guiding principle for Eddie, shaping his interactions and relationships throughout his life. He shares a simple yet profound mantra: “May you always have lots of love to share, lots of good health to spare, and lots of good friends who care.”

In a world that has witnessed the depths of human cruelty, Eddie’s message is a beacon of hope. He encourages us to cherish and spread love, to appreciate the gift of health, and to nurture genuine friendships. His life story is a testament to the transformative power of kindness, even in the face of unimaginable adversity.

Eddie’s journey demonstrates that while life may present challenges, it is our response to these challenges that defines us. By choosing kindness, love, and understanding, we can create a legacy that outlives us, touching the hearts and lives of generations to come.

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Escape and not – part 4 of 5

In his memoir, “The Happiest Man on Earth,” Eddie Jaku reflects on the profound impact of perspective. After enduring the horrors of the Holocaust, he could have easily succumbed to bitterness and despair. Instead, Eddie chose a path of positivity and gratitude. He writes, “I have a belief that if you have good morale, if you can hang onto hope, your body can do miraculous things. Tomorrow will come.”

Eddie’s philosophy is proof of the strength of the human spirit. Despite the immense suffering he faced, he recognized the importance of hope and the power of a positive outlook. He believed that even in the darkest moments, there’s always a glimmer of light.

His message is clear: cherish every moment, embrace the good and the bad, and always choose happiness. As Eddie beautifully puts it, “Life is beautiful if you let it be. Happiness is in your hands.”

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Escape and not – part 3 of 5

Eddie further recounts a harrowing journey he endured once on a train to Buchenwald. Packed into open wagons and exposed to the biting cold, survival seemed impossible. Yet, even in those dire circumstances, Eddie and his fellow prisoners found a way to stay warm. They crafted a large blanket from their jackets, huddling together, only their heads peeking out, as snow piled on top.

But it wasn’t just the cold they had to contend with; hunger gnawed at them constantly.

And then, a glimmer of hope: as the train passed through Czechoslovakia, kind-hearted women ran alongside, throwing loaves of bread to the starving prisoners. It wasn’t much, but even a morsel of bread symbolized more than sustenance. It was a testament to the enduring spirit of humanity, a beacon of hope in the darkest of times.

Eddie’s story is as a powerful message that even in the face of immense cruelty and adversity, acts of kindness can shine through. It underscores the belief that hope, fuelled by the compassion of strangers, can be a lifeline in our most desperate moments.

Meanwhile, we need to question our own supposed sadness and depression. Given our lives are infinitely better than Eddie’s, do we have a reason to be sad, even for one second?

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Escape and not – part 2 of 5

Another story unfolds in the grim surroundings of a concentration camp, where Eddie was forced to work on machinery. Every day, he was chained to his machine, with only a drunk and abusive guard for company. The guard’s cruelty seemed boundless, but life had a twist in store for Eddie.

One day, Eddie was summoned by the man in charge of the factory, a man named Goh. Expecting reprimand or worse, Eddie was taken aback when Goh, with tears in his eyes, revealed that he had been a prisoner of war with Eddie’s father during the First World War.

Goh expressed his deep sorrow for the atrocities Eddie was enduring and, while he couldn’t help him escape, he promised Eddie something invaluable: sustenance. From that day on, Eddie found extra food hidden in his machine, a small act of kindness in a world devoid of humanity.

Eddie’s encounter with Goh is a testament to the unexpected places where kindness can be found. It’s a reminder that even in the darkest corners of human history, there are glimmers of hope and humanity. As they say, it’s always darkest before dawn.

More tomorrow!

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Escape and not – part 1 of 5

In his book “The Happiest Man on Earth,” Eddie Jaku shares his deeply moving experiences as a Holocaust survivor. Among the many tales of resilience and hope, some stand out: Eddie’s audacious escape from the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Auschwitz, a grim symbol of the Holocaust, was a place where hope was a scarce commodity. Yet, Eddie, with his indomitable spirit, devised a plan. Hidden inside a drum, he was smuggled out of the camp on a truck. However, the joy of freedom was fleeting. Still wearing the Auschwitz uniform, he became a target in a world that might not always show kindness.

In search of refuge, Eddie approached a house, hoping for sanctuary. Instead, he was greeted with gunshots, a stark reminder of the era’s deep-rooted fear and prejudice. Injured and with dwindling options, Eddie made a heart-wrenching decision: to return to Auschwitz. Using the returning workers as cover, he seamlessly re-entered the camp, his brief stint of freedom now a haunting memory.

The same Eddie has written a book titled “The Happiest Man on Earth”. If we were to go through an ordeal 1/1000th as bad as his, would we even be able to smile, let alone write a book on happiness?

Continued tomorrow!

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Complexifier

This was the word used by a David Von Drehle, an award-winning journalist. What was he talking about? Youngsters, of course ????

But it’s equally relevant for anyone else too.

David’s latest book, “The Book of Charlie: Wisdom from the Remarkable American Life of a 109 Year-Old Man,” is a best-seller about resilience and what it means to live well.

He says that people are complexifiers, always trying to complicate everything. How true isn’t it?

He agrees that sometimes life can indeed seem very complicated.

But how to un-complicate it?

By simply spreading kindness, generosity and joy. That’s it.

Profound, and worth thinking over many times.

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Change?

With any problem in our lives, we pray for a solution.

What is this solution?

To magically make the problem go away of course.

To change the playing field, to change the circumstances, to change the experience itself.

But is that really a solution? Is that really a lasting solution?

What is the ideal solution then?

To pray to change not the circumstance, but to change me!

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DTNT

No, this is not Dynamic TNT, although the message itself is far more explosive.

Someone analyzed the life of Abraham Lincoln. In one particular year, he was going through absolute hell. On the work front, he was absolutely being clobbered. His 11 year old son died. His wife went into depression.

And yet, Abe Lincoln came out successful.

How did he do it?

The answer lies in DTNT.

Do The Next Thing.

Stop being stuck to whatever problem is there, and move on. Do the next thing.

Such simple yet exceptional advice for me!

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Hagglers

Often I’ve seen well-off folks haggle with poor roadside vendors and hawkers, even for chump change.

To an outsider, it might seem trivial, a petty argument over mere cents. But to the haggler, it seems like a battle worth fighting.

Why would someone do this? Maybe because when our lives lack significant worries, we inflate the importance of trivial matters? We focus on the loose coins of our lives, ignoring the wealth of happiness and peace that surrounds us.

The haggling with roadside vendors is simply a euphemism. There may be many such irrelevant and minor things which take up too much of our time, but which we should perhaps wean away from.

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Granted genius

Many years ago, a young Angela Duckworth (today author of bestselling book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance) heard a phrase that would shape her life. Her father, in his candid manner, would often tell her, “You know, you’re no genius!” This statement, far from discouraging her, sparked a flame of determination. She only saw a challenge to prove him wrong.

Angela’s journey was not an easy one. She faced numerous obstacles and setbacks, but she remained undeterred. She pursued her passion for psychology, eventually becoming a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. There, she dedicated her work to studying grit and self-control, two attributes she believed were critical to success.

Her father’s words echoed in her mind as she delved deeper into her research. She realized that success was not solely dependent on innate talent or intelligence. Instead, it was the result of passion and perseverance, the very qualities she had demonstrated throughout her life.

Angela’s story is a testament to the power of grit. Despite being told she was “no genius”, she went on to win a MacArthur Fellowship, also known as the “Genius Grant” – how ironic isn’t it?

How do we each react in the face of adversity? That’s a good answer to have!

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The Laws of Human Nature – part 6 of 6

Continuing the last 3 laws/takeaways from the book called the Laws of Human Nature by author Robert Greene.

  1. The Law of Aimlessness – Without a clear purpose or direction, we drift through life. We must find our life’s aim and pursue it with determination.
  2. The Law of Self-NarcissismSelf-love can blind us to our faults. We need to be aware of our own narcissism and strive for a more balanced self-image.
  3. The Law of RashnessActing without thinking can lead to disaster. We should take time to reflect before making decisions, especially important ones.

    That’s a wrap – an excellent and big book of 18 laws summarized into a few lines. Hope you enjoyed reading, and find the applications useful in daily life!
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The Laws of Human Nature – part 5 of 6

Continuing the takeaways from the book called the Laws of Human Nature by author Robert Greene.

  1. The Law of FlatteryFlattery can be a powerful tool, but it must be used wisely. Insincere or excessive praise can be seen as manipulative.
  2. The Law of Grandiosity Overestimating our abilities can lead to dangerous overconfidence. We need to stay grounded and realistic in our self-assessment.
  3. The Law of Gender RigidityGender roles can limit our understanding of ourselves and others. We must embrace the full range of human qualities within us, regardless of gender.

    Continued tomorrow…
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The Laws of Human Nature – part 3 of 6

Continuing the takeaways from the book called the Laws of Human Nature by author Robert Greene.

  1. The Law of DefensivenessThis chapter discusses the human tendency to become defensive when challenged. It advises us to be aware of this trait and to use it to our advantage in conflict and negotiation situations.
  2. The Law of Self-SabotageThis law highlights the human tendency to sabotage our own success due to fear and insecurity. It encourages us to recognize and overcome these self-defeating behaviours.
  3. The Law of RepressionThis law discusses the human tendency to repress uncomfortable emotions and memories. It advises us to confront and process these feelings to achieve emotional health and stability.

    Continued tomorrow…
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The Laws of Human Nature – part 2 of 6

Continuing the takeaways from the book called the Laws of Human Nature by author Robert Greene.

  1. The Law of Compulsive BehaviourThis law discusses the repetitive patterns in human behavior. It encourages us to recognize these patterns in ourselves and others, and to use this knowledge to predict future behaviour.
  2. The Law of CovetousnessThis chapter discusses the human tendency to desire what others have. It advises us to be aware of this trait and to use it to our advantage in negotiations and power dynamics.
  3. The Law of ShortsightednessThis law highlights the human tendency to focus on immediate gains rather than long-term benefits. It encourages us to think ahead and consider the long-term consequences of our actions.

    As we can see, each law is relevant and power-packed, and the gist is contained above. It just needs some thoughtful reflection and conscious work for self-transformation. Continued tomorrow…
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The Laws of Human Nature – part 1 of 6

There’s a very interesting book called the Laws of Human Nature by author Robert Greene. What is the book about? Well, the title is obviously a bit of a giveaway. And it is very detailed and profound. So I thought to summarize the takeaways from each of the 18 laws in it. And we’ll do it using another rule – the rule of 3s, because it is said that the human mind can’t remember or digest more than 3 things at once!

  1. The Law of Irrationality – This law emphasizes the importance of self-awareness and rationality. Our emotions make us irrational. So the law encourages us to understand our emotions and biases, and to use this understanding to make more rational decisions.
  2. The Law of Narcissism – This law highlights the human tendency towards self-obsession and the need for validation. It advises us to be aware of this trait in ourselves and others, and to use it to our advantage in social situations.
  3. The Law of Role-playing – This chapter discusses the importance of understanding the roles people play in society. It encourages us to see beyond these roles to understand people’s true intentions and motivations.

    Continued tomorrow…
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Love-it Post-it

In the realm of innovation, sometimes the most groundbreaking ideas come from the most unexpected places. Take the humble Post-it note, for instance. This ubiquitous tool, found in offices and homes worldwide, was born out of a ‘mistake’.

Spencer Silver, a chemist at 3M, was on a mission to create a super-strong adhesive for the aerospace industry. But, as life would have it, he ended up with a weak, pressure-sensitive adhesive that could be easily removed. It was far from what he intended, but Silver knew he had stumbled upon something unique.

For five years, he championed his ‘failed’ experiment within 3M, sharing his discovery in formal presentations and casual water cooler conversations. Yet, no one knew what to do with it. It was a solution waiting for a problem to solve.

Enter Art Fry, another 3M scientist, who attended one of Silver’s seminars. Fry, a choir singer, was grappling with a minor yet nagging issue – his bookmarks kept falling out of his hymnal. Eureka! What if he could use Silver’s adhesive on his bookmarks? They would stick without causing any damage. He tried it, and voila, it worked!

The Post-it note was born, not out of a meticulously planned project, but from a ‘failed’ experiment and a choir singer’s frustration. Maybe making mistakes and getting frustrated could be our recipe towards the next great thing – who knows!

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Winning the lottery

In a book called Attitude is Everything by Jeff Keller, there is an interesting (and familiar!) story.

There was a woman named Sally. She was just like any of us, living her life, going through her daily routine. One day, she found herself feeling extremely tired. When asked how she was, she responded honestly, “I’m tired.” This simple statement reinforced her belief that she was tired, making her feel even more fatigued. Her day at work was unproductive, and she brought herself and her co-worker down with her negativity.

Later that day, Sally discovered she had won the lottery. In an instant, her fatigue vanished, replaced by an overwhelming sense of excitement and energy. She was no longer the tired woman from earlier in the day. She was now a bundle of energy, celebrating her win and planning what to do with her newfound wealth.

Was this transformation due to some physical change in Sally’s body? Absolutely not. In just a few seconds, her mindset shifted from exhaustion to exhilaration. As Jeff concludes, we each hold a winning lottery ticket. This ticket is called our attitude!

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Great work

This is what we all want people around us to say to us. “Great work!”

But how can we do great work if we don’t like our work much? That’s what Paul Graham writes about in a recent post of his. Great advice.

He says that it’s a bit of a hit or miss, finding your so-called passion in life. If you find it, then you are among the rarest of the rare.

But what if you don’t, or haven’t yet?

Mr. Graham’s advice? Keep trying. Keep increasing the surface area for luck to find you. Don’t just drift along and hope for a eureka moment. Take action! Success stories often involve serendipity: chance meetings or stumbling upon the right book. Luck is the secret ingredient. How do you attract luck? Be curious!

In his own words:

"Try lots of things, meet lots of people, read lots of books, ask lots of questions." 
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sf – part 4

When author Polina Pompliani interviewed Francis recently, she says she asked him, “Okay, but how did you bet on yourself, like your entire life?” And he replied, “The entire time that I was doing this, I kept asking myself, ‘What do I have to lose?’” And the answer was, “Nothing. I can just keep trying and betting on myself and gaining the skills and learning the lessons.”

What was her takeaway?

She says she discovered the utmost importance of believing in oneself, by embracing one’s passions and skills. It may be daunting, but taking that leap of faith is crucial. Despite the risks, Francis fearlessly pursued his dreams. Failure held no sway over him, as he possessed the resilience to adapt and persevere.

Francis added, “I know that if I fail, I can start over and over and over and over. I have that skill, and you can take everything from me, but you cannot take that.” And when Polina asked him if he identifies as ‘the heavyweight champion of the world’, Francis replied, “Absolutely not because there’ve been many before me and there’ll be many after me.”

What an outstanding story isn’t it? Thanks for reading!

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sf – part 3

After enduring countless setbacks, Francis refused to be deterred. On his fifth attempt, fate smiled upon him, and he successfully crossed the treacherous waters to reach Spain.

Though faced with a brief period of detention upon arrival, Francis remained steadfast, knowing that asylum was within his grasp.

From Spain, his journey led him to the vibrant streets of Paris. Homeless and destitute, he found refuge in the shelter of a humble parking garage. Despite its meagre surroundings, Francis saw it as a sanctuary — or rather a luxurious haven in comparison to the harrowing ordeals he had overcome and the home he had grown up in.

By a stroke of luck, Francis found a boxing gym nearby. A perceptive trainer recognized his potential. The gym closed soon after, but fate led him to the “MMA Factory.” Unfamiliar with MMA (Mixed Martial Arts), he embraced the challenge. With relentless training, he became the heavyweight champion. In just nine years, he transformed from novice to dominant force. He ventured to the US, making his mark in the UFC, leaving the world in awe.

What does he say today when he looks back? Concluded tomorrow!

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sf – part 2

Why “sf”? For San Francisco of course, because that was his dream. Maybe it helped that his name Francis was embedded in the name San Francisco as well, who knows!

At the age of 28 (just ten years ago, in 2013), he knew he wasn’t getting to America directly. So he set his sights on Europe first. Was that easy? Not at all.

From Cameroon to Niger, Nigeria to Algeria, and finally, Algeria to Morocco, he traversed over 3,000 miles through the unforgiving desert. The magnitude of this feat cannot be overstated—it was sheer madness. With unwavering determination, he set his sights on crossing from Morocco to Spain, boarding a raft to brave the treacherous waters of the Strait. But the path to freedom was riddled with obstacles. It took him a gruelling 14 months to complete this ridiculous journey, constantly facing the threat of being pulled from the water. The Moroccan authorities, known for their harsh treatment of refugees, would often cast them back into the merciless desert or confine them to indefinite periods in Moroccan jails.

This happened to him four times. Continued tomorrow!

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sf – part 1

Super story here, of one Francis Ngannou, who I never heard of until today.

In the MMA / UFC (fighting/boxing) world, he’s a world champion, but given I do not follow the sport, his story was a revelation in incredible perseverance to get to the top.

Francis was born in Cameroon. He was digging sand mines as a kid for $1.8 a day. ‘Abject poverty’ would barely begin to describe him.

His only dream? To become a professional boxer and that too in America. While working at the sand mines, he’d be daydreaming about the USA and his boxing success.

So much so that everyone around him called him “sf”, for San Francisco. Even till today, he signs his name as “sf”!

Continued tomorrow!

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Selfimage pilgrimage

In the years of lore, what would people do during vacations? Travel the world? Chill on a hill? Rest in the west?

Maybe, but mostly no. They would often use the few weeks a year of downtime to head for their pilgrimages.

Today? Even the few pilgrimages are spent little on the Lord and mostly on taking selfies and reels of the way to the place. Hundreds of phone-cameras abound everywhere, with the focus being on the screen, rather than on the idol.

Swami Sivananda said the following about pilgrimages:

... If, after the pilgrimage, you prove that you have been purged of all sins... that you have been filled with spiritual vibrations of the sublime atmosphere you have sojourned in, and if you live a pure life of righteousness, devotion, truth, love... you have been liberated. The pilgrimage has served its purpose.

How do our own pilgrimages look like?

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Creative juices and snacks – part 2

Creativity is not a fleeting muse however; it’s a muscle that grows stronger with practice, and that is my big takeaway. Achatz’s journey exemplifies this truth.

What’s the worst that could happen to a chef? Him losing his sense of taste right? Well poor chef Achatz was diagnosed with tongue cancer. A seemingly cruel blow, for one who’s creative expressions rests nay depends on the use of his tongue!

Despite battling tongue cancer and losing his ability to taste, the chef didn’t let it dampen his creativity. In fact, he let it fuel his innovation even more.

Achatz discovered that taste is just one aspect of the dining experience. By leveraging his other senses (smell, sight, sound) and incorporating visual illusions, he created even more mind-boggling culinary surprises than before.

Shows that creativity is not just about inspiration or talent; but also about consistent work, dedication and a never-say-never attitude to one’s craft.

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Creative juices and snacks – part 1

We all would like to get our creative juices flowing. It’s always astounding to see professionals unleash their creativity and create some truly magnificent works of art, whether it be literary, or art, or even culinary!

A Chicago based chef I’d never heard of really intrigued me. Grant Achatz, considered a creative genius – is the chef behind Chicago’s cutting-edge restaurant Alinea.

How does chef Achatz get his ideas? He simply draws inspiration from various disciplines and infuses them into his culinary masterpieces. Achatz’s brain naturally forms connections between unrelated concepts, and he takes full advantage of this ability. Here are two lovely examples:

In a museum, a large-scale painting sparked Achatz’s imagination: “I want to eat off of that!” This inspiration transformed the tablecloth at Alinea into an edible work of art, adorned with sauces that resemble a masterpiece.

While listening to a song by Rage Against the Machine, Achatz envisioned an extraordinary dining experience with thrilling peaks and captivating valleys, just like the song. He transformed this musical flow into a culinary story that takes guests on a rollercoaster of flavors and emotions.

Concluded tomorrow!

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Kind is the new smart

A recent graduation speech at Northwestern University by Gov. Pritzker caught my eye.

And it wasn’t because he was using funny lines from the hit TV sitcom “The Office”, blissfully unaware that the lead actor from the show was in the audience for his own daughter’s graduation (ya, true story!).

He made some lovely points, but the takeaway for me was on the importance of kindness.

Over my many years in politics and business, I have found one thing to be universally true: the kindest person in the room is often the smartest.
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Obamazing

Was watching a short clip of ex US president Barack Obama. Without bothering about political leanings (as always!) in this blog, here are two excellent suggestions he had for the youth of today.

  1. Don’t go to your boss with problems. Instead go to him/her and say “I’ll take care of it”.
  2. In life, focus on what you want to do, not what you want to be.

That’s all folks, how thought provoking!

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Sound medical advice

A recent article written by a medical professional was unique I thought.

Instead of talking about which medicines to take, the doctor was suggesting that the best form of defence against diseases, is a good attitude!

“Amiability” was the word used. Plain old good-naturedness. That’s what seems to have a protective effect on health.

Know what the cure mentioned for “chronic hostility” was?

Simple. “Try to be more forgiving!”

Pollution from wildfires and vehicle emissions is outside no doubt. But we are also deeply polluted in our minds. No wonder then that diseases abound. But the right attitude and living the virtues are quick fixes.

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Dematerialized

On a recent long flight for work, I was happy to just head back home after all the insane travel and hectic schedule. After the bags were checked-in, and my immigration cleared, it was time to just unwind and sleep on the plane.

We sat on the plane, and the plane sat on the tarmac, for the entirety of 6 hours. And then we were de-planed – back to square one as it were.

With no substitute flight in sight, the only option was to book another carrier. So take my luggage, and re-check-in and repeat the entire process. But the luggage didn’t come. The first plane’s cargo hold wouldn’t be opened because of a lack of manpower (impossible to fathom for those hailing from a country of 1.4 billion!).

Filing a complaint with the airport baggage services team resulted in an arrangement where the bags could / should be delivered directly to my home… within 22 days, or monetary compensation if undelivered!

Money cannot compensate for some of the things in the bag – gifts purchased for those back home for instance. Nor can it compensate for the lost time and energy. But such is life, providing first-hand practical lessons on the importance of de-materialism and its mental acceptance.

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Imposters

Ever got the feeling that you are just faking it in life? As though most people around us are great, always acing their work, while we are struggling to fill our shoes?

We know that this is the imposter syndrome at play.

Is it normal? Absolutely. There’ll always be some level of self-doubt in us, which leads to this. A few famous personalities, nay Gods or superhumans, themselves had imposter syndrome!

1) Lord Rama when he was enlisted by Rishis Vishwamitra and Vashishta to fight some demons that were troubling them.

2) Lord Hanuman when he was asked to cross the ocean and go to Lanka in search of Sita.

3) Arjuna the greatest warrior of all, when he went to the Kurukshetra battlefield, was terrified of fighting.

4) Post the war, King Yudhishtira, Dharma raja himself went into depression and had to be reminded of his kingly duties!

If these maestros struggled with imposter syndrome, then why should we worry? Of course, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t prep well before a test or performance or interview and so on. It might also be okay for us to cultivate comfort in expressing our lack of confidence, which in turn displays true confidence and provides reassurance even in professional settings. This approach can help us stay humble and grounded.

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Above and below

Saw this superb video today where legendary Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan tells a lovely silly funny profound story in an episode of Kaun Banega Crorepati, or the Who Wants to be a Millionaire Indian adaptation.

So one day, number 9 gets up and slaps number 8. Why? Because number 9 says he’s greater than number 8. Number 8 is furious, but can’t do a thing to number 9. So he gets up and gives one tight slap to number 7 instead. Number 7 is stunned, but cannot do anything. Why? Because number 8 says he’s greater than number 7. So then 7 gets up and slaps 6, 6 slaps 5, 5 slaps 4, 4 slaps 3, 3 slaps 2 and 2 slaps 1. Phew!

1 gets up now, and menacingly walks towards 0. And poor 0 is cowering in fear. But 1 doesn’t slap 0, instead he goes and sits next to 0, and says don’t worry, we are together now, and you might be 0 and I might be 1, but together we are 10, and bigger than everyone else here!

Success doesn’t come from putting people down, but from propping people up. What a super message, isn’t it?

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I’m the king of the…

Who doesn’t like a little gossip? Or a little back biting. Pretty natural human tendencies these are.

If someone causes something to happen to us, we immediately transform into telltale narrators. “You know what he did to me?”, or “It’s because of her only that I had to do this…”.

But when Lord Rama was exiled by his own father Dasharatha and asked to go to the forest for many years, how did he break the news to his mother?

Not by cribbing about how his old man had lost it in his senility. Instead, he only said this:

Mother, my father has asked me to be the King of the forest, and I seek your blessings.

Can we imbibe such a pristine quality into our own daily lives, despite having nowhere near as miserable misfortunes?

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Assumed reality

Here are some questions, both relating to the same fact. Which one is true in your view?

1. “Why is my manager so damn demanding?” versus “Why am I not courageous enough to express myself and my boundaries?”

2. “Why is my peer / colleague not trustworthy?” versus “Why am I not being collaborative enough?”

3. “Why is my friend / family member not driven enough?” versus “Why have I not been able to inspire my friends and family?”

4. “Why do my children not listen to me anymore?” versus “Why am I unable to understand my children’s needs anymore?”

Two sets of questions, with the target (aka blame) of one being external, while the other probes the self!

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Emotional take

Why do we get angry? Or sad? Or jealous?

These are all emotions of the mind, as we know them. And we think our minds are making us emotional.

But if we stop to think why this happens, we’ll realize it is largely because of a conflict that occurs between our hearts and our minds.

When you have to leave for an important meeting and your lunchbox packing has got delayed, it instantly results in an expression of anger. But the emotion comes not because we are angry by nature, but because a situation has presented itself whereby our reaction is one where temper levels have shot up. The heart is chilled out most of the time, but given that the mind has seen a potentially troublesome scenario, it has dragged the heart into behaving angrily.

Most important is the need to stop reacting. Reacting clouds the intellect and kills any discriminative ability. According to Swami Niranjananda of the Bihar School of Yoga, we must substitute reaction with involvement. Remain involved, be in a flow state, experience the unpleasantness of what is happening, but do not react. Won’t happen in a day, but worth working towards, for me at least!

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Lucky stuff

At times, I need to travel for work.

Different countries, different clients, different flights.

Some people say,” Wow, so lucky, you get to travel so much.”

“Country A, Country B, Country C…so much fun!”

My travels are never like that.

Only “Airport A to Hotel A; Airport B to Hotel B, Airport C to Hotel C, and multiple client meetings, and back to the respective airport for a rinse and refresh”. And no friends or family.

Who’s definition of fun is that? 🙂

Everyone has some good stuff, and some bad stuff, and we each need to make peace with our stuff, without worrying about others’ stuff!

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Work leader vs life leader

People often suggest that one must keep their ‘work’ lives separate from their ‘life’ lives. Yes you can perhaps keep the work itself separate. Don’t do your office work at home, or don’t take your office calls from home, etc. But mentally, is it possible to separate this work and life this way? Not easy.

For example, if you are someone that is cool, calm and composed at home, it’s unlikely you’ll fly off the handle at work. And vice versa too. While we might be put in different situations (work vs home), we are the same people that are going through the various different scenarios. If I get angry easily, then it’s likely to come through irrespective of the surrounding.

Apparently (and hence), leadership is no different. Leadership requires self-awareness. To be a successful leader, it’s important to understand and work on one’s own personality traits. Personal mastery is the key to becoming a great leader

The focus of the leader is hence first not on his team or followers, but on him/herself.

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Leadership Secrets – part 4

Back to leadership today after a short Mahashivratri interlude! We all know there is no shortcut to success. And that it is hardwork that leads to success. Yes yes, true true. But there is a shortcut! Know what that is?

It is simply the ability to learn from mistakes. Not just our own, but also the mistakes of others. This is the true tried and tested shortcut to success. Incredibly, this works in spirituality as well! The Guru has gone through the exact process, and doesn’t want us to make the mistakes He was once aware of.

How does making and learning from mistakes link to leadership? Well, the third secret of leadership success is being open and willing to fail. Why? Because failure not only brings out the best in us, but it also teaches us the most important lessons in the path we are pursuing.

A nice example is that of a toy company called Spin Master. It’s first product was “Earth Buddy”, a minor hit. But the founder Ronnen Harary didn’t want to stop there. He realized that kids can be fickle consumers, and their toys may only be popular for a short period of time. In order to build a multi-generational brand, Ronnen gathered insights from experts in various fields, including video, animation, and apparel. He specifically learned from the mistakes of everyone in the field. This led to the creation of “Paw Patrol”, a brand based on anthropomorphic puppies as emergency rescue workers. Since its introduction in 2014, “Paw Patrol” has generated $10 billion in global revenue and become one of the most successful multi-generational children’s brands in the past two decades, with a presence in over 40 languages!

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Leadership Secrets – part 3

Collaboration was secret #1 of leadership. What was secret #2? Encouraging risk-taking.

Is risk-taking useful? Yes, massively so. This is precisely where innovation comes from. If we just sit and do the same thing over and over, it will likely not lead to anything new or radical. But risk-taking needs to be calculated, not random, not just for the heck of it.

A super story is that of James Dyson, a born entrepreneur, and also a huge risk taker.

He once created a product called the Ballbarrow, a wheelbarrow with a low center of gravity, like a giant yoga ball in front of a wheelbarrow, making it easier to work in gardens and construction sites. Unfortunately, the product didn’t sell and he was ousted from the company he founded.

However, James’ failed invention led to his greatest success story. While working on the Ballbarrow, he noticed the powerful suction of the turbine fans used to clean up the paint factory and he wondered why home vacuum cleaners couldn’t be that effective. This sparked his curiosity and he set out to create a vacuum cleaner without a bag, which was the root cause of lost suction in traditional vacuums. It took him 7 years and 5000 prototypes, but eventually, he created the game-changing Dyson vacuum cleaner. After launching the product at a mid-size retailer in Britain, it quickly gained popularity through word of mouth.

Today, James Dyson is one of the richest people in Britain and the success of his company is a result of its willingness to take risks and constantly push boundaries. Continued tomorrow…

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Leadership Secrets – part 2

Continuing from yesterday, what does collaboration really mean? Everyone wants everyone else to be collaborative around them, and they certainly feel they each are the pinnacles of collaboration. Is that true though?

Within many firms, it’s all about the money. And there is often only so much of a pot to share, capitalists, as most of us are. Collaborating could mean someone else taking the credit and the pot. But Guy argues that collaboration even in large companies and in cutthroat verticals can have positive effects, i.e. synergies such that the sum is greater than the parts. He gives the example of P&G – the global consumer company. Founded pre-Civil War (1837!), they have 60+ brands of which at least 20 are worth over a billion dollars.

In the 1990s, Crest – P&G’s toothpaste brand – was struggling to compete with Colgate in the toothpaste market. Crest researcher, Paul Sagel, saw an opportunity to create a teeth whitening product that people could use at home. He came up with a solution, but couldn’t figure out how to apply it to teeth. During a lunch with colleague Bob Dirksing, who was working on a plastic product for Procter & Gamble, Bob suggested using plastic wrap. They tested the prototype and took it to the CMO, who greenlit the product. In just 6 months, Crest Whitestrips hit the shelves and made $300 million in revenue in its first year.

Crest Whitestrips is proof that collaboration can bring success. Paul and Bob’s combined expertise created an incredibly successful product, showcasing the value of a collaborative culture in organizations. When collaboration is encouraged, great things happen. Continued tomorrow…

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Who changed who

When Mahatma Gandhi was young, he used to loiter around with good-for-nothings. His mum didn’t like this one bit, and used to reprimand Gandhi ji. “You will become like them only, and probably soon take to smoking and drinking.”

To which Gandhi ji replied, “Have faith in me ma, I don’t hang around with them so that I can become like them. I’m hoping that they will become like me instead!”

We each in daily life encounter all sorts of people, some negative some positive. While it might be easy to categorize the ones who party and booze and smoke as the “bad” ones, this is barely scratching the surface. Look beneath, even for the “good” ones, you will find so much “bad” lurking there – anger, jealousy, greed, fear – you name it.

How to be “good” then? By being mentally strong, having faith in oneself, and living a dharmic life as guided by our scriptures.

Faith in oneself is key. Just like a bird doesn’t give two hoots about the branch it is sitting on. Because her trust is placed on her own wings.

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Risky business

Many people look at risk from a financial perspective. If I make 100$ investment in a stock for example, then will my capital grow through time? Or would it get obliterated?

One could also look at risk from the perspective of losing something other than money, such as a job or a relationship. It’s always a worry for many employees. Should they open their mouths and speak up? Or is it too risky, potentially leading to a demotion or worse, a sacking?

While the risk of doing something, anything, is always large, there exists another very big risk. This is the risk of not doing anything at all. Optimists will gravitate towards doing something, while pessimists will prefer to watch from the sidelines.

Even in spirituality, risk exists. We are often saddled with the weight of the questions, “Am I good enough?” and “What will people think if I…?”

Coming out of this stage requires a lot of courage and self-compassion. The greatest risk is this: not letting go of what people think, and not standing up for how we feel, what we believe in and who we are.

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Good and Bad

Here are some outstanding lines from the Ashtavakra Gita:

He who has known that adversity and prosperity come through the effects of past actions is ever contented. 

Notice how it says both adversity and prosperity. Not only prosperity. It’s not only the good experiences and things we have which lead to contentment. Instead, it is the knowledge that both adversity and prosperity come from past karma – that’s what leads to true satisfaction. If something bad happens, it probably resulted from something much more than just what we did an hour ago. If something great happens, it too probably resulted from something more than just last hour’s effort. We must think not just about the outcome, but of the million billion incidents that had to all happen since we were born, in order to bring that specific event to fruition.

He who knows that happiness and misery, birth and death are also due to the effects of past actions becomes free from care and is not attached even though engaged in action.
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Somebody who’s a somebody

We all want to be noticed and recognized, even seen as someone who is really cool – intelligent, charismatic, principled, caring, dynamic, interested in other people… and maybe a few more things!

But how to be like this? Is there something that can be done? Yes there is, and it doesn’t even need you to open your mouth to utter a single word. How incredible is that!

In a book called 92 ways to talk to anyone, the author says the following:

Just ensure great upright posture, a heads-up look, a confident smile and a direct gaze. It's the ideal image for a somebody who's a somebody!
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Smells like team spirit – part 2 of 2

Leil Lowndes, author of the bestselling book “How to Talk to Anyone92 Little Tricks for Big Success in Relationships” begins his book with the following:

You see, nobody gets to the top alone. Over the years, people who seem to "have it all" have captured the hearts and conquered the minds of hundreds of others who helped boost them, rung by rung, to the top of whatever corporate or social ladder they chose.

Scottie Pippen says emphatically when journalists question him back then, “My time will come.”

I don’t know if his time came or not, whether his pay was revised or not. But that is one damn good attitude to have.

And even if MJ was undoubtedly the best player the game has ever seen, he surely couldn’t have done it without his team (spirit).

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Awesome Inferiority

Watch any toddler for a while.

Apart from all the cuteness, what is most striking?

Their complete lack of ego.

They know that they do not know.

They also know that everyone else in the room knows more than them.

Their inferiority complex actually leads to their superiority in learning.

Why do we, as adults, then fear an inferiority complex?

Not that we need to feel inferior about everything. But it is probably a great tactic to enhance learning.

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Focus chokus

Focus is a great thing. But it can also be a greatly destructive thing. How? When we are focused only on the short run.

Feel like you want to sleep right now so as to get a full 8 hour shuteye before that important morning meeting? Sleep will probably evade you for the next hour, if not more.

Want to perform really well in your music audition today? All the nerves will probably get to you.

Desperate to find a life partner? The chances of making a mistake in the process just goes up materially.

Instant gratification is not good. Our scriptures talk of enjoying the journey. If everything is instant, then where is the journey? Before you can even wear your slippers, the ride is over! No wonder all this focus is choking us.

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The Gods who are weak

Almost everyday there is a point when I feel tired. Maybe mentally if not physically. But often physically too. Especially if it’s a Monday. Strength seems to always be coming back towards Fridays though. ?

But weakness isn’t good. Here’s what Paramahamsa Yogananda has said once:

You are all gods, if you only knew it. Behind the wave of your consciousness is the sea of God's presence. You must look within. Don't concentrate on the little wave of the body with its weaknesses; look beneath. As you lift your consciousness from the body and its experiences, you will find that sphere of your consciousness filled with the great joy and bliss that lights the stars and gives power to the winds and storms. Awaken yourself from the gloom of ignorance.
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Upset? Upset!

A columnist in the newspaper recently deconstructed the upset wins of Japan and Saudi in the 2022 Soccer World Cup.

Of course, the upset was to the incumbents, not the winners.

He theorized that the upset victory came due to two reasons, and both are applicable to me in my daily life.

1. Preparation. Being the underdog helps, because they do not expect the game to be easy. Apparently the Saudi coach screamed at his team to get their act in order instead of just gawking at their idol Messi and waiting for selfies with him after losing the match. They had a solid gameplan, knew the exact formations to take against their formidable opponents, and then it was execution to the T.

2. Globalization. Most of the best European soccer leagues have players from all over the world, rather than just from Europe. It reminded me of Indian cricket IPL, where players come from all over the world. This results in spectacular exchange of best practices. The community builds and grows together. This is useful even from a 9-to-5 work perspective. If there’s a scope to learn from people across various regions and cultures, then why not? With the internet at our fingertips, learning is not a luxury, but a function of our own desire.

Upset? Or not so much?

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Cry me a river

Here’s a thought provoking para I read recently:

I also wasn’t used to being yelled at. My mother and father never raised their voices. If we did something wrong, they let us know about it, but they never screamed or shouted. I felt tears welling up and my face turning red and hot. I had to force myself not to cry. I said I understood, and we would do better in the future. As I found my way to the parking lot, I vowed to myself, This is never, ever going to happen to me again.

What is insane about this para is that it could happen to anyone. I’ve certainly felt like this before, and it almost feels shameful to think about.

But guess what? It is really common. This experience above? It’s taken from the autobiography of Blackstone’s founder Steve Schwarzman. This happened to him not when he was some just-studying lowly-intern who recently took up his first ever job. Nope. He’d already become very successful, and very rich, and had made an excellent name for himself. And still he had to face the ire of a client. Happens to the best.

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Survivor

One person I met today, is a survivor. He’s a very accomplished person. And very rich too. Those who see him today, and don’t know him well, only know him by his wealth. Typical high-level understanding of other people.

This person had very modest beginnings. But persevered and worked hard and made it big.

Along the way, he lost his job and was left hunting for two years.

He was also a bystander in a bomb blast. Not the happy story that he “just escaped”, but he was hurt, quite badly. There were thousands of shards of glass that entered his body, which he says even today keeps reappearing from his body from time to time. When he was found at the explosion site, he had so many cuts and wounds and openings that doctors had to perform 5 hours of surgery and over a 100 stitches all without anaesthesia. Imagine the pain!

And yet this person is smiling today as though nothing happened. No cribbing that the universe conspired against him and what not. A lesson for me in how to handle tough times.

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Family first?

This is not a political post, but simply a humanitarian one.

The current President of India is Droupadi Murmu.

This statement can just end there of course. But someone who didn’t know better could assume that this lady got there easily.

But nope, couldn’t have been harder.

She is from one of India’s most backward and underdeveloped communities. She also lost her husband, both her sons (one to an accident), her mother and her brother, all in the span of a few years. Losses that would have destroyed any other normal person.

But this strong lady continues to work selflessly for her country. And with a smile.

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Tribhutis

Nothing much in the title, except that these are 3 examples of Vibhutis (glorious manifestations of the Lord) that Krishna mentions in Chapter 10 of the Gita.

1. Kamadhenu. Moo-moo, wow a wish fulfilling cow! Wish I had one! I’d get everything I want. But no, that’s not the point at all. It’s not about getting everything from the cow, but rather whether we can be like the divine cow – give (grant wishes) to others without expecting anything in return.

2. Lord Rama, personified with his bow and arrow. No, not as a great warrior, which he surely was, but rather signifying alertness. Alert we need to be, if we do not want to fall off the spiritual path.

3. Prahalada, the foremost devotee. His own father didn’t like him, and tried to finish him off. And yet Prahalad’s faith towards Lord Narayana only grew stronger. What do we do in the face of adversity?

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Serial-cribber

There’s this guy I met the other day.

He was sitting at his desk – the front desk.

He seemed really bored, and was watching some video on his phone.

“How irresponsible”, I thought to myself. “Sitting at the front desk of an office and watching videos”.

I casually asked him how he was and what he was upto. He said he had been at the job for a year. He needed the money desperately to make ends meet. I enquired about his work timings. 8 am to 8 pm he said.

“5 days a week right?”

“No sir, I have to come on Saturdays and Sundays as well.”

Imagine that, no weekends off, no breaks, just an insane 7 day work week, and that too for a pittance. I couldn’t see him complaining though. He was doing what needed to be done, and with a smile. A good lesson for the serial-cribber in me.

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CWG – part 3

Blood, sweat and tears is often used loosely by white collared folks when they’ve achieved something after a lot of struggle. The sweat and the tears may well be true. But the blood part? Not so much.

Not that it has to be. Imagine getting a small cut on the finger or a hair pull on the scalp or a mouth ulcer. That pain is felt throughout the day.

But imagine having a dislocated shoulder, or intense cramps, or stitches on the knee. And then imagine going on to win a medal on the world stage. Quite exceptional isn’t it? All that and more happened this time in these games.

The question I asked myself is, should I find ways to complain, or solutions to problems?

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How to keep a positive attitude?

We know that “attitude is everything”. There’s even a book with exactly this title. People say you can change your life and your destiny if you change your attitude. But how to do this?

Shivani Didi of the Brahma Kumari group has some tips that she talks about in her videos:

  1. Read something spiritual or read positive books for 30 minutes within the first two hours of your day
  2. Do not read newspapers (or any negative information) at least till lunch time every day
  3. Do not watch any negative or sensational stuff on TV either in the morning or within two hours of bedtime
  4. Associate with those who have a positive attitude, and keep away from habitual grumblers
  5. Stop complaining, and instead appreciate all the positive things around you

So cool isn’t it? And not that tough to follow!

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Positive reinforcement

Imagine you just concluded something important. It’s now time for feedback. Self-feedback.

There are just two questions to ask.

The first is, “What did I do right?”

The second one would obviously be, “What did I do wrong?”

But no, there’s a better second question. Instead of focusing on what went wrong, we could ask “What should I do differently?”

The outcome of the two variations of the second question is the same. But the way it is phrased makes all the difference. The best part? Both question 1 and variation 2 of question 2 will be positive reinforces. Neither doom nor gloom!

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Kadanaaynu pannaadhey!

This was the example a very senior satsangi gave recently in a satsang. And it was very funny!

This is a Tamil phrase which means “don’t do your work as though you are paying back some loans/dues”.

It’s a common saying down South, and is often expressed by irate parents who see their kids going about their work or studies in a completely uninterested fashion.

This phrase was mentioned yesterday when the speaker was asked about how we should be going about our work.

“With full dhriti and utsaaha, or perseverance or excitement, no matter how boring the work.”

Doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t look out for better opportunities, but whatever we are doing currently, that needs to be done with the best intentions and mindset, not as though we were forcefully and woefully repaying a debt (even if in reality, some EMIs are to be paid each month ?).

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The real shark

On a recent episode of Shark Tank, a lady who was pitching spoke about how her father never believed she could/would ever be successful. The man wanted a son, but got her instead, and she broke down about how this would always scare her.

But she never gave up, always chasing her dreams, and that brought her to the sharky stage that day.

Robert, one of the sharks, who was already “out”, came back “in” at that point, and spoke of his own learnings. How he was always told throughout his childhood by everyone around him that he would never ever be successful.

Maybe this is quite a common experience. But what he said after that was key.

He said that after many years, he realized that the problem was not all those naysayers at all, but he himself. All his success came as soon as he yanked himself and his own negative thoughts that were standing in the path of his future.

Good lesson for any one of us that might have some negative thoughts from time to time!

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This is how you conquer fear

Fear is a struggle for most people. As one quote says, you don’t need to put a gun to a person’s head to make him afraid. You just need to ask him to go on stage to speak in public.

Of course, fear has more facets than just to do with public speaking. Even in day to day work, when faced with something unfamiliar, new, uncomfortable and uncertain, there is often a feeling of dread. The mouth dries up, the stomach ties up, and the brain fries up. This leads to anxiety, and eventual (or immediate) underperformance. What to do?

A common solution would be to “stay calm” or “try to calm yourself down” or “take a few deep breaths buddy”. This is good advice in general, except that when fear has already struck and when your adrenaline is pumping and heart rate is already high, trying to calm yourself down hardly works.

According to some research, we need to transform our mindset at the time into that of excitement. Trying to calm down a body engulfed by fear is like yanking the hand brake when the car is hurtling forward at 100 kmph. But excitement? “Yes I’m unsure of how this will work out but boy am I so excited to try out this new job!”

This is really just a shift in mindset, but do try it out the next time you face any sort of fear. Try telling your mind that you are so excited by this opportunity, and watch in amazement as the fear melts away, replaced by enthusiasm and eagerness!

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Greenest grass

On a recent rural trip, I couldn’t help but marvel at some homes on the way. Yes they were rudimentary, but also so peaceful. There were cattle grazing, elders lounging around in the sun, kids playing by a small brook, and lush pristine green as far as the eye could see.

The immediate thought that comes to city dwellers in such circumstances is, “What am I slogging for really every single day in the concrete jungle I’m living in? All the money in the world cannot buy such experiences in nature and simplicity. Wish I could live here instead.”

Mine was a day trip, and I had to head back to base in the evening. This meant I passed by the same rural homes, although this time after sundown.

It was pitch dark. A few earthen lamps lit the patios. But enough to warn of any wild animals, especially snakes in the grass, or other creatures lurking in the shadows? Not a chance. Men and women walking along the sides of the main roads could only be seen if lit by the high-beam flashlights of passing vehicles. God forbid if someone was driving with low or no lights. All the dazzling serenity and beauty of the place in the morning, was replaced by an eerie silence instead.

Surely these were the good old days, where waking up with sunrise and winding down by sunset were the order of the day. But can we follow this in our city lifestyles? Will that keep us happy, or is this just greener grass?

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Please select justification

What’s good and what’s not? Can a bad thing also be a good thing?

My work recently required me to send a bunch of emails. All similar emails, similar content, but with changing only the names, addressing each recipient individually.

These kinds of one-off tasks can get boring and repetitive (because they are!), but sometimes just need to be done.

Each time I would hit the “Send Email” button, a pop-up would show up: “Please select justification for sending this email outside the office domain”, and I’d have to select “Official Purpose” and that would be it. But if I had to do this for each time I had to send those 50-60 emails, it was becoming irritating.

Until, after about the 20th email, in a hurry, I forgot to change the name of the recipient, and hit send. Oops! I realized my mistake in that split second itself, and my heart jumped into my mouth. Luckily, there was a pop-up “Please select justification…”

Phew. Saved by that same pesky pop-up! Again, what’s good and what’s not? Can a bad thing also be a good thing?

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Whose problems?

Everyone’s got problems. Some are big, some are small. But no, rarely would anyone consider their own problems as small.

My Guru used to say that if a lot of people are complaining about their problems, they should all be brought together. Like at a dining table, and then made to discuss their problems, one by one. Then at the end of the discussion, the choice should be given to each one to exchange their problems with others.

Would anyone be ready to exchange? Absolutely not! While their own problems are bad, the other person’s problems are even worse, so we are better off with our own! So what is the takeaway? Quit cribbing, and be happy with what we’ve got.

The corollary? As the saying goes, “Don’t tell people your problems. Eighty percent don’t care and the other twenty percent are glad you have them.”

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The art of war

Was reading about a war situation. One family of 6, two parents and 4 of their children, were stuck in their home as war broke out. They thought they were safe, until an enemy missile exploded barely 500 meters away from their home.

They dashed into their car and decided to make a run for the border. Only 5 of them though. Because the eldest, at 18 years of age, decided to stay back and fight for his country.

The other 5 somehow managed to reach the border, staying in all sorts of temporary encampments enroute. With great difficulty, they crossed over into the neighbouring country.

The husband ensured his family was safe, and the next morning began the drive back home, to join his son in the fight. Whether the wife and 3 kids would ever see their husband/father/brother/son again, was a question no one had the answer to…

Meanwhile, what silly tiny immaterial problem in my life was I complaining about again today morning?

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Titular

CEO, CFO, COO, CIO, Head of Legal, Head of Sales, Executive Director, Managing Director, Senior Vice President, Senior Partner, Senior Principal etc etc.

These are all lovely titles.

Everyone wants them.

But can everyone handle them?

Each of these titles comes with truckloads of stress and deadlines and deliverables and insane client demands.

If we run after the titles alone, we will experience nothing more than stress and anxiety.

However, if we focus on adding value to those around us, neither will we be stressed, nor will we need any titles. Paradoxically, all the titles in the world will come running to us!

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Thud

A few years ago, my grandmother set out for an early evening walk around the colony.

The area had a lot of trees, and so was nice and green, while also providing decent shade from the sun.

Midway into her walk… and a large branch from a tall tree above, broke off and grazed her hand.

She returned home immediately, and had to put some medication, but it was nothing serious.

It might seem like this was a small incident, but she herself knew it’s importance. Not that the branch broke off, but where exactly she was at the time. Just one step to the right or left, and the branch would have hit her on the head. And with such a hard blow…

We may egoistically think we are in full control of our lives. But we don’t even know what can fall from the sky when we step out for an innocuous walk.

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Renovation

We were doing some home renovation recently.

Workers would come in at 10 am, and work all the way till 9 pm. A few breaks for chai and lunch and the like.

But work they would. It’s brutal, painstaking, physical labour. Painting, carpentry, plumbing, masonry, you name it.

And they would work 7 days a week. Why? Because they are daily wage earners. One day off means one day off their wages as well.

They’re probably a 2 day train journey away from their families. So they have everything to crib about.

And yet, they take the time to smile and joke and laugh among themselves.

The actual work they do is not what is valuable. The attitude that keeps them happy inspite of it, is what is truly priceless.

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Scientific monkeys

We know we get nervous before important situations in life. How to understand this? Centuries of evolution has made the human brain react to circumstances in one of two ways. 1 – Monkey, or 2 – Scientist.

When in Monkey mode, the brain is scared, escapist, releasing cortisol and looking to run. In Scientist mode however, it is calm, relaxed and looking to learn.

How do we maximize Scientist mode over Monkey mode? We can learn from Firefighters. The first fire breakout for a new firefighter is a scary experience. But as s/he gets to their 20th fire, which could be 10x bigger than their first, they are cool, calm and collected. Why? Because they are prepared and have seen this before.

Therein lies a clue. Preparation helps. Like if you are scared of the time-crunch of a 3 hour exam, practise taking tests within 2.5 hours itself. Laughter helps too. No better way than laughing about a problem you are going through. All of this is maya anyway, and really doesn’t matter in the long run. More laughter = less cortisol!

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How much to donate?

Took a rickshaw ride to the metro station today. Turned out to be a very expensive one. Instead of paying x, I paid 10x.

Why? Because the rickshaw driver got a 10-second call in between, told me he just got news that his wife delivered twins, and congratulated himself. He then said all was good till 5 days ago when his father passed away. And that his wife was in ICU and that he had no money to buy her medicines. He wiped a (possibly) non-existent tear from his left eye too, whilst slapping his forehead a few times.

I gave him a little cash, and he asked for more because “medicines are expensive”. I told him that’s all I had, and he motioned to the QR code stuck on his vehicle and said I could transfer the money to him. To which I reminded him that the meter showed x, and that I’d just paid him 10x.

Even 10x really wasn’t a very big number – hardly anything. Maybe I should have been more generous – because what if he was being genuine? But some of this also seemed like it was pre-rehearsed. Was he lying? Was this a scam? I have no clue. No way of finding out.

My Guru says a) donate 10% of your post-tax income, and b) to make said donation only to the cause he has selected (education for the underprivileged). Why ‘only‘? Because he has already done the research, and knows the practical difficulties of trying to help everyone and supporting every cause. While ad-hoc folks asking for money like the example today is not uncommon in India, following principles ‘a’ and ‘b’ is what gives me peace of mind.

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Inflation

There’s inflation everywhere now.

The whole world is talking about it, and the whole world is reeling from it as well.

Many shelves are empty, especially electronics with semi-conductor chips in them.

In developed countries, wage inflation is so rampant, that 5 star hotels have stopped room service, and many restaurants and bars have been clubbed together.

Inflation is pinching everyone.

But there’s one type of inflation that pinches the most.

And this is called the inflated ego. No explanation necessary ?

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Stone throw

We know this story, but it is worth recollecting again.

There was a wise woman traveling in the mountains. She found a precious stone. The following day she met another traveller who was hungry, and the wise woman opened her bag to share her food. The hungry traveller saw the precious stone at that time, and asked the lady for it.

She handed the precious stone over with zero hesitation. The traveller left, happy like never before. He thought he was now set for life.

But he came back shortly thereafter, to return the stone to the wise lady.

Why? Because he told her he wanted something even more precious than the precious stone. What could that be?

Only the ability and attitude to be able to give away something so precious in the first place.

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Desert rose

“Oh desert rose eh ley hi ey ley…” crooned the legendary singer Sting many years ago.

I have never figured out the words after ‘rose’, but that’s digressing from the point.

No one likes deserts no? Not desserts, which are universally loved (except by the 22 year old trying desperately to get his abs to show!), but the dry arid landscapes that parch your throat just by thinking about them.

A dry barren dune-filled land is always considered infertile and useless. “What will anyone do with such a place?” is the first thing that comes to mind.

But even weaknesses can be turned into strengths. That’s my learning. We know this, but still get dejected in the face of adversity. Here’s a nice line I saw about the Indian state of Rajasthan, as part of a tourism advertisement.

“A pioneer in the green revolution (to generate solar energy) in India with 300-330 sunny days a year, which is comparable to the deserts of California and Nevada!”

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Classy

As I board a 16 hour flight for a business trip, I see people seated in different parts of the airplane.

The majority are in Economy.

The minority are divided between First and Business.

Everyone reaches the same destination, no partiality there.

But the journey? Vastly different, whether quality of service, legroom or food and beverage options etc.

No different than life outside an aircraft.

The end game is fixed. But the journey is what matters – what we do, what we make of it, and how we impact those around us.

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Smile and a wave

My building’s watchman today gave me a smile and a wave. So did his wife.

I was traveling, and hence hadn’t seen them in a few weeks.

It doesn’t mean much, someone smiling. Big deal. Even though many people choose to keep morose faces throughout the day.

But this ageing couple smiling and waving is special.

Just a couple of days ago, the watchman’s wife went into cancer remission. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the watchman suddenly got heart problems and needed to be operated upon immediately.

Do these guys have enough money saved up for taking care of their healthcare needs? Certainly not. What do they do? Take a loan of course. And you can be sure that their interest rates aren’t pretty.

They have it tough right now. Really really tough.

And yet they are able to smile and wave. What a mindset!

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Trigger

Someone I know was faced with a really tough situation recently.

He struggled at first – just like anyone else in that situation would have.

And then he did something amazing.

He declared that this tough situation is nothing but a trigger.

A trigger for him to correct his earlier mistakes. To fast track some changes that were on the backburner. And to ensure that the situation is viewed as nothing more than an opportunity to improve.

And what a change that made to his life.

Just phenomenal how a change in attitude can change your life.

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10,000 by 3

Remember Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour practice rule? You practice anything for 10,000 hours and you’ll become world class (like a concert violinist or pianist or a professional soccer or cricket player).

The breakup was that if you can practice something for 3 hours a day for 10 years, you’ll easily achieve an unparalleled level of expertise.

For many of us, even taking out 1 hour a day to do something we’d loosely classify as a “hobby” would be extremely difficult.

And if we did get the 1 hour out of an already maddening schedule, then it’d just be better to unwind with Netflix or Prime no?

One way I like to look at this, is to put in the 10,000 hours at our work. Our office job. The day job. Whatever it may be. And guess what, we work 9 hours a day anyway. So that’s 3 times more than the 3 hours per day needed for mastery in 10 years. Which means we could be masters at our work if we spend just 3.3 years!

Instead of spending time by the water cooler, gossiping and talking politics and what not, why not just use every single opportunity to learn, spend the 9 hours in the most efficient manner possible, and become the best-of-the-best in your line of work, whatever it might be? ?

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Movjars & shakers

If you have a jar with red ants and black ants in it, nothing notable happens.

The ants just mind their own business and go their own ways.

But give the jar a shake, and apparently the ants take on each other. The black ones feel the red were the cause of the jar-quake, and vice versa. And they literally fight each other to the kill.

Deadly.

But they don’t realize that it’s not them that caused the problem, but the jar shaker.

Don’t we behave similarly as well?

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Aww-scarred

In an awards ceremony, the host made a joke about a man’s wife.

The man got up from the audience, walked to the stage, and slapped the host on his face.

The host was stunned, but carried on, as though nothing much had happened.

The man went back to his seat, and loudly reprimanded the host for talking about his wife.

Is it okay for people to make lewd jokes in public?

Is it okay for people to take matters into their own hands literally, with physical violence?

Is this a reflection of the times we live in?

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With much aplumb

The drain in the washroom where we were temporarily residing recently had got clogged. Pretty common occurrence, especially if some hair or other small item goes and gets stuck. It could also be because of dirt (aka muck) getting accumulated over time.

The easy part is to just call the plumber.

What a tough job. The guy came in a few minutes. And where’s we’d otherwise squeam or cringe before even going near the drain, this chap was cool as a cucumber.

He wasn’t even wearing any gloves. He just unscrewed the perforated drain cover and stuck his hand inside, to check what the problem was. Of course his hand got dirty, and it wasn’t even dirt that he caused! But a quick check, and he smiled, “I found the cause of the problem, it’s some blockage outside.”

And bounced off to the other side of the building, ladder in tow, in order to ‘reach’ the area of the problem. 10 minutes later, all was fine and dandy. Never seen a guy stick his hand into a drain and still maintain a smile. I couldn’t do it, surely. My work is infinitely better, yet I find ways to be unhappy ?

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Showerma – part 2 of 2

A good friend narrated this incident to me.

He had travelled for an educational workshop to some remote villages in the northern most tip of the country.

Suffice it to say, that it got very very cold there.

Most folks didn’t take bath there for days, he told me.

But he came across one child, enjoying his bath, out in the open, wearing just a small half-pant, and singing bhajans of the Lord.

My friend asked him how he could be so happy when the climate and the water are so cold.

The child’s reply? “Arre sir, kam se kam, yahaan paani toh hai na!” (at the very least, water is available here!)

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Job interfeud

In a recent interview, a candidate was just perfect, on paper.

We could not have hoped for better experience or credentials.

But when we gave her a follow-on request via HR to provide some written answers to a few technical answers, she replied that she had already discussed some of these answers in the interview itself and hence didn’t want to repeat herself ?

A couple of times during the interview too, she said some things that made it seem like attitude was an issue.

We discussed this later, and every person who interacted with her over the course of a few days felt the same way – that her attitude was a challenge.

The decision was unanimous. We can take someone who is not as good technically, but can surely be trained. But it would be disastrous to take someone who does not have EQ or DQ (remember?), because this mostly cannot be taught, and not at this age anyway.

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Cake eater

Just traipsed into a cafe for breakfast. Wasn’t in the mood to eat anything.

But I was hungry nevertheless. With a bunch of thoughts about my ever growing to-do list, I sat at the corner after ordering a sandwich.

“The grill isn’t warmed up yet sir, it will take 15 to 20 minutes, hope you aren’t in a hurry”, said the man at the counter, wearing a friendly smile.

“No hurry at all”, and I went back to my thoughts. My eyes fell on a bunch of lovely looking cakes. Cream filled, multi layered, cheesecakey-dripping – just too yummy each one seemed.

And then, something else caught my eye. At the far corner of the room, an elderly man, probably in his seventies, white long beard and all, sat tending to some cakes. Nay, he was making them!

Never have I seen someone enjoy their craft so much. He was totally at ease. And totally unimpacted by all the noise around him. So many people moving past him, placing their orders, waiters at the tables, children screaming or crying. But no, completely at peace. And in harmony, with nothing more in focus than his cake. The love for his cake creation, was immediately manifesting in the beauty of the final product, and the demand for the pastries.

Truly karma yoga in action.

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Affirmative

There’s a new-age fintech company called Affirm. This company uses technology to enable people to buy things now and pay for them later (in instalments).

It’s become a big deal and all, as more people who couldn’t afford larger ticket lumpsum-payment purchases, have now come into the customer fold.

In essence, it is allowing people to live (i.e. enjoy) life today, without worrying today itself about how to pony up the cash required.

I don’t know if this is a good thing or not, but it did spark another chain of thoughts. We are always told how we should focus on the present and not on the past or the future. Even if we decide to forget the past, how can we not be concerned by the future? We need to plan for it right, which means thinking about it today. How do we resolve this?

Perhaps a hint lies in the name of the firm above. My Guru places an excessive emphasis on positive visualizations and affirmations. If we practise these effectively, we are staying very much in the present, giving our minds a lot of support and positive energy, while indirectly shaping our futures. What do you think?

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Uncommon drive

Pretty much every car driver I have come across would agree that driving at night is a bad idea.

Oncoming traffic lights are blinding, there are often no streetlights, and just the thought of getting waylaid or stranded in the middle of the night is enough to keep most night drivers at bay.

Not one fellow I met recently, who has been driving for decades now though.

I’m sure he didn’t have a choice, and driving at night was an occupational hazard for him. But he didn’t let that deter him.

With a wide smile, he explained how he loves driving at night. “The air is pure and clean, and there is less traffic. It is also safer, because I don’t need to depend on my horn, because my powerful headlights take care of visibility.”

Despite not being put in a good situation (“having to regularly drive at night”), he had totally accepted it, and was even selling the proposition to others! Quite the mindset to deal with adversity.

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Shouting for directions

Here’s a nice perspective I came across.

We’ve all used Google Maps. The turn by turn navigation has literally changed our lives. So much so, that we wonder how we ever managed to find our way around before it existed. It was launched in 2005, not that long ago, but those were probably very early builds. A really robust one on our phones was probably available 7-8 years later only, which is quite amazing, given it feels like we’ve been with it forever.

What’s awesome to learn from Google Maps is the guiding lady’s peace of mind.

If you ever missed a turn or a u-turn or took the wrong left or right, what does she do? Does she scream? Does she abuse you for not even understanding basic directions?

Quite the contrary isn’t it. She simply finds the best alternative route, re-routes you, and then proceeds to guide us on the new path.

Is there some learning for us from her mannerisms?

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Blue collar

World over, blue collar workers are looked at with disdain and condescension.

They are usually uneducated, at least formally. When I used to take flights to the Middle East in the past, there would be at least a few who would not be able to fill in the immigration forms. You fill a form for one, and soon there will be a queue, each one waiting for you to fill theirs. But that is the least we can do right?

We might think that we are educated and know better. But most ‘educated elite’ who live abroad, usually just live there as outsiders, sometimes for decades. The so-called blue-collars there on the other hand tend to quickly pick up the local language, enough to have decent conversations even. I’ve seen at least a dozen cases of these blue collars stepping in to diffuse a tense situation between a local and an outsider, simply on account of them knowing (nay, having purposefully learned) the language.

What differentiates the blue-collars more than anything else? Their grit and determination. That no matter what, whether they like it or not, they will always GUDUSUNGU. It’s really their power that makes our blue planet go around.

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12 and a half

A very interesting book I’m reading by Gary Vaynerchuk is called Twelve and a half. The author has identified twelve very critical emotional ingredients which he believes are absolutely essential for success. And then he identifies a 13th one as well, but since he believes he has much work to do on that last one, he only accords one-half the weight in the book’s title.

You would have heard of all these 12/13 items – like empathy, accountability, kindness, gratitude etc etc. But what I found very interesting is how the author emphasizes the need to combine these.

We often hear and feel “Good people finish last.” We’ve seen this happen as well – where the nice ones get taken for a ride. But that’s why Gary argues it is important to combine the ingredients, depending on the situation. Here’s a nice example from his book:

Let's say you are the head of a law firm, and you've hired a kid who grew up on "the other side of the tracks". He or she doesn't know the protocols for a fancy dinner with a client, and you end up losing the deal as a result. This is where you have to pull 'gratitude' and 'accountability' from the "spice rack". You need to be thankful for even having the opportunity to own a business and land this new account. You show accountability by realizing that you're the one who hired but failed to properly train that person. All of a sudden, [there is no blame game], and everything becomes secondary.
Note: [my addition]
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DQ

Meet DQ. The new kid in the Q.

You know IQ – Intelligence Quotient. I know IQ, but have little first-hand experience!

EQ is the topic of much recent study – Emotional Quotient. You know this.

DQ is a new term that I came across in a recent Harvard Business Review post.

Decency Quotient. Plenty useful in the workplace.

It goes a step further than EQ, implying that a person not only has empathy for employees and colleagues but also the genuine desire to care for them.

“DQ means wanting something positive for everyone in the workplace and ensuring everyone feels respected and valued. DQ is evident in daily interactions with others. DQ implies a focus on doing right by others.”

DQ is perhaps the most needed of the three today – agree?

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Down and out

Just saw this crazy #tweet.

A guy was working alone on his farm and met with an accident.

It was a horrific one, where both his arms were chopped off.

What did he do? Not just fall down as though the world had collapsed (like many might do when they don’t get enough likes on their latest instagram or facebook photos).

He called the ambulance emergency services number with a pencil that he dialed with his mouth.

How crazy and inspiring is that? Both his arms are reattached surgically now and he is fine.

Good to remember things like this when we are apparently down and out.

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Start-stop

Many do not want to work regular jobs nowadays.

They want to be free from the rat race.

They want to ‘start-up’.

Because start-ups can make them a lot of money, while they work on their own terms.

They think they will get peace of mind this way.

But speak to those who have experienced both.

“There is no difference at all”, they say.

The race might be different, but everyone is still a rat only.

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The first lady

Nope, this one is not about the President’s wife.

This is about an amazing true story I heard on a podcast recently. The lady in question was the first female employee at Ford Motors many decades ago. And what a crazy journey she had getting there!

This was being recited by the lady’s son. She grew up in a refugee camp on the Indo-Pak border. There was no running water and no electricity. But she did something really amazing. She taught herself how to read. And the first book that she read from cover to cover was the biography of Henry Ford. She started visualizing that she wanted to be an engineer at Ford Motor Co.

This looked unlikely if not impossible, but somehow her parents saved every penny and managed to put her on a boat to America. She ended up getting a scholarship, and graduated as the only female engineer in her class. The next day she was in Detroit to find some way or the other to apply for her dream job. The man she met there said, “Sorry, we don’t have any female engineers. Goodbye.” To which the lady made her case, detailing everything she had gone through to get to this point. The man was moved, and said he would take it up to fight for her. She ended up being the first lady at Ford Motor Co., back in 1967.

What about us, what do we do in the face of adversity?

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If then

Everyone talks of software coding to be the next great money-spinning skill in life. I don’t know much about that, but I did see one nice quip by a child recently. “Coding is nothing but a glorified bunch of ifs and for loops.”

Our lives aren’t very different. We keep repeating various patterns and rituals like for loops. We also are faced with many conditionalities, like the ifs, based on which we make certain choices and move ahead in life.

But the real problem? We worry about the ifs. A lot! What if this happens, or what if that happens. Constant worrying.

So here’s a lovely story about tackling the what ifs.

You know Sparta, the ancient Greek city famed for having really tough citizens. King Phillip II of Macedonia had invaded many other neighbouring territories, and then he set his target on Sparta.

King Phillip sent a letter to the Spartans in advance. “Should he come as a friend or a foe?” They replied, “Neither.”

So Phillip sent another message. “I advise you to submit without further delay, for if I bring my army into your land I will destroy your farms, slay your people and raze your city.”

Once more, the Spartans replied with just one word: “If.”

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Two arrows

We’ve probably heard the phrase, “pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.”

The Buddha teaches this in another way as well, with the concept of the two arrows.

Any time we go through a rough patch, or a bad event occurs, it is like being hit with one arrow. That’s bad right?

Now imagine you yourself pickup the bow, and shoot another arrow, at yourself. That’s even worse, and that’s the second arrow.

The first arrow touches our skin, or body, physically in some way perhaps. Maybe we didn’t get the reward we thought we deserved, and so a pain in the neck, some tears, some lightness of the head etc. Okay gone. But then, if we continue to cogitate on this, we allow the second arrow to pierce much deeper – right into the mind and the heart.

Which is to say, that at any given point, even if things aren’t as messed up as we think, we prefer to tell ourselves that it is really really really messed up.

Best way out? Use the second arrow as a learning experience. Find a way to ascribe some meaning to the pain. And then we’ll realize that it wasn’t pain in the first place, but an opportunity in disguise.

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Boring nonsense

is what one would think if they are asked to read books like Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. As we have discussed here before many times, my Guru absolutely loves the book.

Why do people consider it boring nonsense? Because it only emphasizes the basics. Like deeply listening to people (not just hearing them). Making eye contact. Smiling. Being interested in the other person. Not criticising others, at least not publicly. And so many other such simple things.

There is no magic formula. No get rich quick scheme. And hence reading the same ‘basic’ book 10 times appears to offer limited value.

The problem lies only in the fact that one is trying to read 10 times but implementing not even once. Every day I see this ‘lack of implementation’ around me (and surely I’m guilty as well). In a recent meet up with friends, no one bothered to check on the other person, because everyone was too busy peddling their own stories. Think about it – how many people outside of your immediate family checked on you in the last year or so? And now vice versa? People are also rude to waiters and househelp. People are forgetting to use their mouths for the one awesome thing God made them for in the first place – to smile! (no, not to talk) etc etc etc.

The basics may be boring nonsense, but the basics are exactly how to win people. And if we want to win success, then we need to win people first.

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Thinking about thinking – part 1 of 2

Here’s a question you should try to hazard a guess about: How many people this very moment, anywhere in the world, whoever they may be, are thinking about you?

Most likely zero? Or maybe one or two? And even in that case, do you think they are thinking about you in a nice way? Or because they want to go out of their way to do something for you? Or is it because they are jealous, or want something from you? Most likely the latter, isn’t it?

As the US Federal Reserve said in 2020, they are not even “thinking about thinking about raising interest rates.” In the context of this post, most people are so self-absorbed that they aren’t even thinking about thinking about us.

Then why do we spend so much time worrying about how others perceive us? Is it really possible to keep everyone happy? Do they even care how we look or feel? This is not to say that the people around us are bad. It is just that they (and we) are all wired in a particular way. We live as though the universe revolves around us, that’s just how it works.

Then why do we worry so much? And what to do about this? Concluded tomorrow…

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Snoopy

We’ve all got quite accustomed to hearing victory speeches for awards ceremonies like the Oscars.

Celebrities take to the stage, and then thank a long list of people, including their cast members, the director, the stunt team, the writer, the choreographer and so on.

In a similar speech by singer/rapper Snoop Dogg, he had an interesting sentence to add.

“I’d like to thank me.”

And then he gives out a sly grin, and then repeats.

“I’d like to thank me, for believing in me.”

Maybe he was kidding, maybe he wasn’t. But in this age of increased stress, anxiety and inferiority complexes, it is surely a great feeling to back oneself up.

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Sunken

“But I am like this only.”

“But this is how I’ve always been doing it.”

“This is how it has been since… forever!”

Heard such statements before? You surely have. Do such statements leave a good impression on you? Probably not. Why? Because we all know, that if we want to get ahead, to improve, we need to adapt and change. But sentences like the ones above, indicate exactly the opposite. Something has been done a particular way, and there is no way I’ll change that.

This actually has a name. It’s called the sunk-cost fallacy. It is also called the Concorde fallacy. That second name was a bit of a giveaway wasn’t it?

This refers to the stubbornness of the governments that made the Concorde. They kept drowning it in cash even after it was clear that it was a commercial disaster. They had already put in so much money and effort, i.e. ‘sunk costs’, that they were just unwilling to change.

We all know the ultimate fate of the Concorde. Would we want to end up like that?

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Religious matters

World over, people are fighting over religious issues.

Theists fights atheists. But also atheists fight atheists, and theists fight theists!

Followers of one religion fight, abuse and slaughter those of another religion.

But equally, followers within the same religion might fight, abuse and slaughter one another due to perceived ideological differences.

It seems as though one just needs a reason to fight, abuse and slaughter.

Here’s another perspective. What if religion is not about God, but about work. Not any work, but about the work each one of us does.

If we can do our work selflessly, and without expectation of the result, wouldn’t that be the pinnacle of all work? Maybe that’s why work is called worship.

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Memento mori

How did the Ancient Romans manage triumph? Did they let it get to their head? Such a weird question isn’t it?

No, because they actually had a process around it. The process was such, that a victorious general or commander could only enter his home city during a special parade. All the loot and plunder and slaves would be displayed amid great pomp and show.

Bringing up the end of the parade, would be the victorious commander, riding in a chariot.

However, he would not be alone. He would be accompanied in the chariot by an auriga, a slave.

This auriga’s only role during this lavish cavalcade? To continuously whisper the title phrase into the commander’s ears.

“Memento mori, memento mori, memento mori, memento mori…”

“Remember you are mortal, remember you are mortal, remember you are mortal, remember you are mortal…”

What a lesson to be reminded of, at the peak of one’s glory!

And then there are some who gloat, even without achieving any glory… <facepalm>

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Always day 1

Amazon.com has a concept called ‘always day 1’. Jeff Bezos talks about it a lot, and also writes about it in all his annual letters to shareholders.

The idea is this: despite Amazon being an absolute behemoth, their mindset will always strive to remain that of a start-up, i.e. nimble and eager to grow.

We can apply day 1 to our lives too. And I take inspiration from looking at the way babies see the world.

You can tell them the same gaga-googoo thing a hundred times, and they will gurgle their laughter back at you each and every time. Tried peek-a-boo? While doing the act, we may get bored, but babies love it. Every time they see it, they act like it is being done for the very first time. They react to their parents smiling at them as though they’re seeing this wonderful sight for the very first time. In short, it is always day 1 for them.

Imagine if we could go to work each day as though it were day 1. Looking at every negative comment, every rebuke, every failure, as nothing more than day 1. Why is this awesome? Because the bad stuff happened before and that baggage is forgotten, while today is day 1, a new beginning, and a hope for great things to come.

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Prep work

The whole world seems to focus only on success. Economic success. Monetary success. Net worth. Success in exams. Success in career. Success, success, success.

We know the opposite of success is failure right? And failure = end of the world. We’ve addressed failure and success many times here in Forever Happy Now.

But here are two very important and interesting ways to rephrase success. And to tell us, that success isn’t an event, but a journey.

  1. “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” This is a super-quote, directly from Benjamin Franklin himself.
  2. “You don’t fail in exams, you only fail in preparation.” This super-quote, I recently found on Twitter.

That’s it. Success will come, as long as the ground work is being laid. Our only focus every minute of every day, must be to keep preparing, and working, to the best of our abilities. Success will come, because where else can it go?

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Immersive

As adults, we often struggle to learn new things. It could be a new skill – usually learning to draw, learning a new instrument – or wait for it – the most favourite of them all – learning a new language!

We often try for a few hours, maybe a few days even. And then the interest levels start to go down. In languages where you have genders for objects – like a train is feminine or a bat is masculine, for a native English speaker, this can be verbal hell.

They say ‘immersion learning’ is the best form of learning. Want to learn French? Go live in the French countryside for a few months. Nobody will speak to you in English, and if you want to survive, you have no choice but to converse in French.

And then the thought strikes – “Oh how I wish I had learned this as a kid. Look at the kids all around me, they are so quick to grasp everything.” And then we give up.

I was quite surprised therefore to read, that kids are actually not very good at learning. They are certainly not better than adults. And if anything, we should have a huge head start. Then why do we struggle? Because we only read and plan, but rarely take action. But kids? They don’t know to read or plan. They only act. Watch any toddler repeat the same broken words and sentences hundreds of thousands of times, until it becomes perfect. How many times to do we repeat what we are trying to learn?

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Running for what?

A podcast I was listening to recently had Allyson Felix as the guest of honour. I had not heard of her before, but she came across as a really nice human being. And that is not to say she’s not famous – she’s the most decorated US track athlete in Olympic history, having won 11 medals – breaking Carl Lewis’ record of 10.

What really struck me was how she found her passion. Most Olympians and sportspersons we meet seem to be born into their sport. Of course there will be a few exceptions (like Allyson), but by and large, it would appear like these exceptionally talented people found their calling very early on, like in their early school days.

And this is something many of us struggle with on a daily basis. We see start-up founders make hundreds of millions, while we feel aimless and lost. We see people who’ve found their calling, while all we seem to end up with are calls from spammers. How to find this passion then? Should we give up?

Here’s what Allyson said that I really liked. She said that most of her peers who found their passions early on, became such hardcore specialists (in a specific sport or activity), that by the time they turned 30, they were already burned out. Whereas in her own experience as a 35 year old medallist, she only entered her sport well into college! Till then, she was just enjoying other sports like basketball that she really liked, but was nowhere near good as in running. I think this is a great lesson for me – no need to struggle to find a passion and get burned out or stay dejected. Instead just enjoy the work I am doing, and live in the now, today, forever happy.

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Improv your life

A friend of mine from college used to be fantastic at improv acting.

How he’d get ideas on the spot, how’d he string his thoughts together, how he’d act on the spot, and yet make it all comedic, I have no clue.

In a recent TV series I was watching, I came across a fundamental principle in improv.

It’s called “Yes, and?”

This is a way of continuing the dialogue. Accepting whatever the other person on stage just said, with a “Yes”, even if it is completely nonsensical.

The “And” after the “Yes” helps with continuing the conversation. Like a nonchalant ‘okay, what next?’

Even outside of improv, this struck me as an amazing way to look at life. We’re each beset by so many unexpected troubles and issues. Instead of getting smacked in the face and falling down, we can stay rooted and ask the question “Yes, and?”, then put on a smile, keep calm, and carry on.

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Garden gecko

A recent evening drive to visit my cousin sister was an interesting one. Not for anything else, but because I had an uninvited guest ride with me. And I learned a lot from him. Specifically, the importance of never giving up. Curious?

So here I was backing my car out of the parking spot at my apartment building. And soon as I hit reverse, I noticed a tiny garden lizard perched up on the windshield. Not on the inside, because that would have freaked all the passengers out, but on the outside. He was really tiny too. No chance he would survive.

Soon I forgot about him – given all the traffic, and the re-routing by google maps and all that. But boy was I surprised when I reached the destination. He was still hanging on! And I most certainly used the wiper more than once. And did i mention the potholes, the sudden brakes, the rains, and the wind? How did he manage it? I will never know.

On the way back, before getting into the car, I checked if he was still around. Nope, not in sight. So I got in, started driving for a couple of minutes, and lo, a tiny lizard head! Suffice it to say, that someone was hanging on for dear life. A total of 3 hours later, monsieur gecko was back at his own apartment building.

He had a quick tour of the city, but his resilience and ability to stick on (quite literally) – that was something else. No giving up and no excuses for this guy. If only I could be like him.

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5 to 7

If something is really hard to do 5 days a week, then it would obviously be really really hard doing it 7 days a week right?

Maybe not.

For instance, did you know that it’s easier to workout 7 days a week, compared to working out 5 days a week?

No way, that doesn’t even make sense right? Or does it?

Think about it. When we work out 5 days a week only, we spend a considerable amount of time wondering which two days should be no-exercise days. Suddenly laziness creeps in. Or maybe we’d want to keep Sat-Sun as no-workout days? Yes possible, except that dragging ourselves to exercise on Mondays becomes that much harder.

Instead of giving ourselves the illusion of choice, what if we just worked out all 7 days, maybe taking it easy on some while really going the whole hog on others? We do brush our teeth and take bath everyday, so why not exercise?

This is really not just about exercise, but could be relevant for developing any good habit at all. Want to read more? We can read 10 minutes a day – everyday – compared to reading 1 hour, only on weekends. Want to eat cleaner? Eat cleaner (not necessarily 100% clean) every day, rather than struggling a few days, only to give all the gains back on one cheat day/week. What do you think?

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5 levels up

The ‘level 5 leader’ is an awesome outcome of Jim Collins’ research. He covers this in great detail in his book Good to Great as well. What is this level 5, and how did he get there? Rather surprisingly, Jim wasn’t even looking for leadership to be one of the defining qualities of an amazing company. It makes sense right? Leaders exist everywhere – bad companies, good companies and great companies. Yet why do only some succeed and not others? Thinking thus, he proceeded to almost remove the ‘leadership’ component of his research.

Until he discovered that not all leaders are created equal. And voila, 5 levels of leadership! This is somewhat like Maslow pyramid of needs, except this is for leaders. Level 1 is about individual skills. Level 2 is team player skills. Level 3 is management skills. Level 4 is leadership skills, which is not just figuring out what to do, but also motivating your team to want to achieve it themselves.

So what was level 5, that led to the companies where these leaders worked outperform to such an extent? It was a combination of two things: humility and willpower. The indomitable human spirit, will, where it’s there, there’s a way – is well known. But humility? It’s not just the self-effacing type. Rather, it is a specific type of humility, defined as the ability to recognize the flaws and faults that you have that you have to grow past with honesty.

And where would one build such humility from? Only from failure. We are all afraid of failure. But it is actually failure which builds success. Imagine combining this humility, with the will to not just do something selfishly (not a leader), but to work for a greater purpose. Incredible.

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Paralimping

Of the various disabilities that exist, a physical one is very hard to live with. Not that mental disabilities aren’t hard – they certainly are. But given weaker cognition as it is, it may have a lesser impact on one’s own self worth. But a physical disability coupled with perfect mental machinery? Surmounting those odds requires gargantuan effort. The various incidences of kids poking fun at undeveloped limbs, or the inability to run around like most kids would – not easy. Even those that are physically (fully) well endowed struggle with their self-images and self-worth. How many times have we not wished to be slightly thinner, more muscular, taller, fairer? Even A-list celebrities, yes the same ones whose chiselled bodies adorn cover pages of leading fashion magazines, too succumb to such mental competitiveness.

So awesome it is then, to read the inspiring stories behind various Paralympic athletes from India and other countries who won golds, silvers and bronzes. Here are some outstandingly fine men and women, who were either born with physical disabilities, or picked them up along the way – through some unnerving quirks of fate. But the power of their resolve, hard work and persistence in the face of seemingly insurmountable physical loss – teaches lessons to those of us who have everything, yet live in our own made-up worlds of mental distress. Money never enough, job not good enough, things not going according to plan, small molehills repeatedly made out to be mountains, giving up on smiling altogether, taking tensions for the smallest things – and on and on. All this begs the question – who really is the one with the disability?

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In the well

Many conversations today go like this.

“Hey man. All well?”
“Yes, all well. And you, all well?”
“Yes, yes, all well here too.”

Could there be a more banal way to communicate? I’m probably the guilty-est of such conversations. Even just calling these ‘conversations’ itself is doing the word a disservice. 🙂

As anyone who has mastered the art of forging deep connections will tell you, the trick lies entirely in asking the right questions, and then sitting back and listening. That’s what makes an outstanding conversationalist. The ability to ask and listen, and not the ability to speak. Counterintuitive, isn’t it?

That is indeed the true power of questions. As Dale Carnegie famously said, “Don’t try to be interesting, try to be interested instead.”

Can we perhaps substitute “All well?” with: “How are you?”, “Where are you from?” (nice and open ended!), “What are you working on these days” (everyone is working on something), “What’s changing in your life?”, or “What are you learning these days?”. So many options!

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Aligned

A while ago, I had to get something designed. Like a presentation, but formatted beautifully and designed aesthetically. Such a task would seem really simple. But the samples sent by the designers? Boy were those off!

Basic things like alignment, would be improper. What to do? It’s easy to explain something mathematically – because it is precise. “Please ensure the border thickness is 0.5 cm.” That’s clear because there is no scope for misunderstanding. That’s why adjectives just don’t cut it.

But alignment is critical, no matter how hard to explain. There are so many people, just living, breathing, eating, walking, working – exactly like everyone else. Seen from afar, there would be no difference whatsoever.

But go closer. And alignment becomes not just a differentiator, but also downright critical.

The wise one, is aligned to a larger purpose. The vice ones on the other hand, are simply jettisoned from one triviality to another.

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I swear

Here’s a cute scene on TV I saw recently.

A table had a small glass jar with a few coins in it. A label ‘Swear Jar’ is pasted across it. A mother is seen berating her 5 year old daughter’s use of swear words. Every time she says a bad word, the kid needs to put a dollar from her pocket money into the ‘swear jar’.

Like all kids, this one too tries to find loopholes, asking her teacher to “go to shell” and “what the muck” among other such cleverly hidden expletives.

The mother is initially irritated by this behaviour. But it dawns on her that the “swear jar” is not the right approach. If one were to create a rule such that the target person (the 5 yo) can’t even understand (because she is too young to), then of course said target would try to break the rule!

The mother then changes tactics and says something beautiful. “Baby, no more swear-jar okay? That is pointless. But I want you to understand why bad words are not okay. And that’s because bad words make other people feel bad. Now you are such a good girl – surely you don’t want other people feeling bad because of what you say do you?”

“No mommy.”

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What’s up doc

During a recent visit to a hospital, I happened to look at the doctor roster.

Just a quick glance, nothing out of the ordinary here.

Many doctor names, many many more credentials, and then their practice timings.

9 am to 4 pm, Monday to Friday. 9 am to 12.30 pm on Saturdays.

Wow they work Saturdays too. And here I am cribbing about my never ending 5 day week. I need to change my perspective on life, and learn from these literal life-savers and life-givers.

And then a few names below, one doctor had a unique ending time for his practice. It read as follows:

“From 9 am, till the last patient is seen.”

Now isn’t that just an exceptional work ethic?

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Working for what?

A scene from the hit movie Munnabhai MBBS shows a very disgruntled hospital janitor. No matter what the situation, he is always grumpy.

Why? Well of course, he makes very little money. But according to him, it’s not the money alone. It’s also the fact that so many people just keep coming in and leaving their dirty footprints and shoeprints all over the floors that he would have just then finished cleaning. This includes all the well-respected doctors and nurses, not just many pay grades above him, but also much higher on the societal respectability scale. No wonder he is unhappy.

That is until the protagonist comes along. He tell the janitor that sweeping floors is one of the most important duties to society, and more so to a hospital. He goes on to explain, that doctors and nurses can only attempt to cure sickness after a person has already fallen ill. But the janitor? He is in a unique position. He is able to prevent ailments by keeping his hallways and rooms spic and span. The janitor now has an elevated responsibility and higher purpose to live up to!

We too may feel we are doing janitorial duties sometimes. And even sitting in a plush corporate office can give us this feeling. It can also happen at any level of seniority. That is why, even successful CEOs and Heads of Businesses quit their jobs in order to find their calling. Quitting to find another job is certainly an option. But while we’re at the current job, we can keep the janitor’s lessons in mind, and look for the higher purpose.

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Tough life

When life gets tough, we often just want to kick it all off and take a break. But few have this luxury. Here are some things we can do irrespective of whether life has gotten tough or not. It’s hard to practise, but this is what great and successful people have advised and continue to advise.

  1. Smile. That’s it. Easy peasy. But can we smile when we know the world around us seems to be falling apart? And “falling apart” is really taking things to the extreme. Often times it is just one of our life-long dreams hitting a minor speedbump. Many times even smaller and more inconsequential, but which we love to focus on and exaggerate.
  2. Don’t complain. As they say, “Don’t tell people about your problems, because 80% of the people don’t care and the rest 20% are happy you have them!”
  3. Learn. All of life is about growing and becoming better. One day at a time. If we can’t learn from our or other people’s experiences aka failures, then those would only be wasted opportunities.
  4. Give back. Living life for ourselves alone is a huge huge huge burden. But living for improving the life of others, for the country, for the world? While the tasks may be harder, the selfless nature of the assignment will make the burden feel weightless.
  5. ABCs. Attitude, Behaviour, Character – this is what differentiates the best from the also-rans.

Finally, as Guruji always says, modern education and material comparisons can only help us in the material world. But the material world is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. Our ultimate goal as human beings should be moksha, i.e. realizing our true nature is not of the body but of the Soul.

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Jumping high

In the Tokyo Olympics high-jump event, the competition was down to two finalists. Both of them jumped exactly the same height of 2.37 metres. And so it was a tie.

The officials had each of them jump again – three more times in fact. But neither Olympian was able to better the 2.37 number.

In the last and final attempt, one of the two contestants had to withdraw because of a leg injury. The other bloke now had a clear path to gold.

But in what would go down in history books as an outstanding example of parasparam bhavayantah (Gita chapter 3, verse 11, nourish one another), the healthy contestant before his final attempt, first checked if he could … wait for it … share the gold with his opponent!

The officials quickly checked and confirmed that it would be indeed be possible. He decided to forgo his final attempt, and in the video, both players are ecstatically seen hugging each other. How amazing is that? We are brought up with the notion that if we win, someone else needs to lose. But life is not a zero-sum-game. If everyone wins, that is the highest jump of them all.

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Behavioural intentions

Here’s a lovely quote by Stephen Covey.

We judge others by their behaviour, but ourselves by our intentions.

This is brilliant because it is not just what it says, but is also the essence of karma yoga. As we have seen before, karma is not just action, as it is often loosely translated into. But rather, it is based on intention.

What Mr. Covey refers to here in a way is our lopsided view of karma. In our minds, we know that we mean the best. If we were late for work or an important occasion, we immediately have an answer ready. Not to the outside world, but to our own conscience. “I really wanted to be on time, but [it started raining] / [the carpenter came later than expected ] / [ got an unavoidable phone call ] / [add other genuine rationale here ].

This is fine. Things go wrong sometimes, and it’s certainly difficult to be perfect in everything all the time. But we apply these relaxations only to ourselves, not to the world. Why? Because we can only see what others do, and not what they are really thinking i.e. intending.

If as the realized masters say, it is intention that is most important even from a karmic point of view, we must introspect thus: are we being too lenient on ourselves, and conversely too harsh on others?

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Rejection notice

Here’s something I came across on my LinkedIn feed recently. A man who was in need of a job was giving some interviews.

During one such interview, the HR told him about the great practices followed in the company, the compassion, the empathy, the work life balance, the amazing culture, the camaraderie and so on. A wonderful HR marketing pitch if there was one.

A few days later, he got an email from the same HR. The email had no greeting, no salutation, no niceties, no ‘thank you for attending the interview’, no template-response either (‘thank you for interviewing with us, we appreciate your candidacy but regret to inform you…’).

Instead, the email from the HR had just one word. “Rejected”. Yes just this one word. Nothing else.

Maybe that HR didn’t have time, or was genuinely irritated by this applicant – who can say for sure. But it’s still basic courtesy isn’t it?

The learning for me was, that even though I don’t write ‘rejected’ emails, maybe I speak similarly – harshly and curtly at times. I may not even realize it, and I wouldn’t know the impact on the other person, but the other party might feel deeply hurt. Much care must be taken. Words once uttered, can seldom be taken back.

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Humble prostrations

Here’s how my Guru began his address to the satsangis this year during Guru Purnima.

He called out a variety of different Gurus across all sorts of sects. He mentally and verbally prostrated before all the great Gurus of yesteryear and now.

He paid obeisance to all the great rishis and munis and saints of the past. He also prostrated to Swami Chinmayananda, Srila Prabhupad, Sri Sri Ravishankar, Sadhguru, Sathya Sai, Shirdi Sai and all the other divine personalities. He also said we are prostrating daily to them. Not just to them, but also to their followers!

My Guru is 80+ years of age. He need not prostrate to anyone. But a self-realized soul understands that the age of the body is irrelevant, and that at our cores, we are all divine, and that there really is no difference. I’ve seen him physically fall at the feet of those who are much younger than him as well.

His prayer on Guru Purnima day was not for himself. Rather it was that we must all understand this divine unity within us, and love each other. And that the love must begin from each one of us, and spread outward. What humility, and what a thought!

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Cover page

When we discuss Dale Carnegie’s (DC) amazing book How to Win Friends & Influence People in satsang, participants often ask certain types of questions. Maybe we can call these questions as extremities. Here are some examples:

  1. DC says we need to listen to the other person. But what if the other person keeps on talking and I don’t get to talk at all?
  2. DC says think from the other person’s point of view. But what if the other person doesn’t think from mine?
  3. DC says we need to smile as often as possible. But others aren’t smiling.
  4. DC says develop a genuine interest in the other person. But when do I then get to talk about my interests?

These are all valid concerns. However, our objective must be clearly understood. As the title on the book’s cover page states, this book is useful if you want to win the other person over, befriend them and / or influence them.

If this is the clear focus and objective, then we need to think: Does it matter whether I get to talk or not, or that the other person doesn’t smile or not, or that they don’t see the world from my point of view? Ideally, no!

This is DC’s decades and countless experiences’ worth of rare wisdom neatly encapsulated into a 200 page book. The real question we must be asking ourselves is – how better can I apply the learnings of this magical book to my life?

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Honest policy

Now most times, when someone comes up and says, “Hey give me your honest feedback on my performance / speech / act / article”, the person on the other side becomes fairly guarded. Should they speak the truth and risk losing an important relationship? Or do they just continue to parade the emperor with no clothes?

This may not matter much in the larger scheme of things in the personal realm. But honesty / transparency are hugely important for company culture. Whether to customers, between employees and management, to shareholders or other stakeholders – admitting mistakes without worry of being censured and the ability to speak freely is quite a superpower. 

The example of Bridgewater Associates, run by Ray Dalio comes to mind. Dalio released some candid feedback he received from one of his employees. “Ray – you deserve a “D-” for your performance today in the meeting. You did not prepare at all because there is no way you could have and still been that disorganized. In the future, I/we would ask you to take some time and prepare and maybe even I should come up and start talking to you to get you warmed up or something but we can’t let this happen again. If you in any way think my view is wrong, please ask the others or we can talk about it.”

And that’s exactly what Mr. Dalio did. He asked the rest of the people in that meeting to rate him on a scale of A to F. Let’s just say the result was closer to F than to A. He immediately published the result for his entire employee base of >2000 people to see.

This is debilitating and extreme honesty to be a recipient of. But its unique culture has been instrumental in helping Bridgewater build itself into one of the world’s largest hedge funds, persisting for over 45 years – when the average life of a hedge fund is only 5 years.

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Fear factor

Here’s an awesome quote you may have heard before – “Where fear ends, life begins.” But for the vast majority of people, fear is actually a very good catalyst.

About a century ago, a delicious white fish known as Cod was becoming popular. It was found in the North Atlantic and word quickly spread elsewhere. The challenge was in keeping the cod fish fresh, as it was transported across the country for consumption. Fresh = tasty.

Many solutions were attempted. Freezing the fish and sending by rail was one – but it became mushy and flavourless. Another was converting the train carriage into a large aquarium and sending the cod fish alive. But despite being transported alive, the cod was still mushy and tasteless.

Finally someone analysed that the cod fish’s natural predator was the catfish. They put a few catfish in each tank and shipped cod fish across the country. During the journey the catfish would chase the cod fish. This cod fish tasted absolutely fresh.

Fresh means being uncomfortable and uncertain. This is counter-intuitive, but it is also when the most growth ever happens. In fact Guruji says that living in uncertainty alone is spirituality. Fearfulness perhaps leads to fearlessness.

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Baby steps 2

Becoming an ‘uncle’ brings with it the unmatched pleasure of enjoying the purest of all creation – babies! When they smile and gurgle, we forget all our worldly problems.

And everyone wants to cuddle with a happy baby. It’s an absolute delight to lift the cute bundle of joy and coochee-coo.

Until the wailing begins that is. Pacifying a one month old can be quite the task. Because they can’t speak or communicate, there’s no way to know why they’re crying. Is it hunger? Gas? Positional discomfort? Inability to sleep? Fear? Silence? Too much noise? It’s impossible to tell.

And in those times, an outsider will quickly hand the baby back to the mother or father and bolt for the door. But the difficult part is staying the course, pacifying the baby, comforting it, and transforming that mood from sombre to sweet.

Surely the parallel to life is obvious. How many times are we put in challenging situations? And how many times do we run away, versus stick on and find a solution?

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Baby steps

Here’s a new title that got added to my name recently. ‘Uncle’. No, not the kids in the neighborhood who’ve been seeing my grey hair and calling me uncle for years ?. This time, it’s for real. There are two lovely baby nieces who’ve entered this funny and amazing world we are in.

There’s some cool stuff we can learn being with them. One of the things I struggle with – is managing emotions of other people. If someone gets angry or spews something at me, it’s instinctive almost to react. Either defend or attack, just to say something, anything.

When you’ve got a one month old baby on your shoulder – one of three things are going to be on you sooner than later – peepee, poopoo or vomit. The one thing you just cannot do in such a situation, is to react. The baby is so fragile and needs such delicate handling, that it’s an amazing lesson in just living in the moment and accepting the situation as it is. This is not about not sitting around without cleaning up. Rather it is about taking a pause and letting them emotions settle down, before doing something.

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On paper

Here’s a trend I’ve been seeing. Having sat in on a few interviews for various roles, candidates of various types and thought processes have come through the door.

Many candidates are just amazing on paper. Tech skills, coding skills, math skills, legal skills, business skills – and plenty of certificate courses – you name it, and they’ve got it.

But interpersonal skills? Not a degree of an online course on “Negotiation 101”. But real-world interpersonal skills. Knowing when to speak and when to shut up. Harsh? Yes maybe, but extremely crucial too.

The higher one climbs in an organization, the more the work becomes about ‘getting the work done’ than ‘actually doing the work’. It’s physically impossible for just one senior employee to do all the work. And if it is, then it’s probably inefficient because it hasn’t scaled to potential.

And the higher one climbs up, the more one needs soft skills. Somewhat unintuitively, even to climb up the ladder, one needs soft skills.

Many interviews I’ve seen have ended with the interviewers talking amongst themselves thus, “Great skills… but, terrible attitude, and that’s a big enough ‘but’ to not move forward.

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Chicken or egg

There’s often a question in my mind. Which comes first. No, not chicken or egg. That nobody knows. But another question.

All of the uber-successful people in the world – and mind you this is a very tiny minority – do not care what the world thinks of them.

For everyone else, their lives are dictated almost entirely by what they think others think of them. What house to live in, what school to send the kids to, what education to pursue, what kind of person to marry, what kind of job to do, what kind of places to travel to, what hobbies to keep and on and on.

But the successful fellas? They couldn’t care less. They only care about what they themselves think, what they feel is right. This comes at a cost, i.e. hearing a lot of no’s, a lot of nays, a lot of opposition and a lot of critiques. They live largely by their own rules.

The way many people rationalize this is – “Hey, that guy is rich, really really rich, so of course he can live by his own rules, and do whatever the heck he wants.”

Which is true to an extent. But the chicken or egg question is – “Did he get rich and can hence live by his own rules? Or did he live by his own rules, and hence got rich?”

What do you think?

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Securing the crown – part 2

We all speak about happiness. Because we all want it. And we’re perennially looking for it – high and low.

And it’s relative too. What does that mean? Queen Elizabeth played by a brilliant Claire Foy in The Crown shares her take on… unhappiness, not happiness.

And what a lovely line it is.

That's the thing about unhappiness. All it takes is for something worse to come along and you realize what you were experiencing was actually happiness after all.

Much like man’s search for heaven up there in the skies. When he dies here on earth and goes up, God asks him, “So, how did you like your stay on heaven?”

We already have everything, if we choose to look within. If we stubbornly look outside only, constantly comparing and recognizing apparent gaps and holes, then we will be left with nothing. Years later, maybe we will realize that that state too was actually happiness – but it may be too late to realize it.

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Securing the crown

There is an amazing scene in the Netflix drama The Crown, which is based on Queen Elizabeth’s life. No spoilers ahead, I think 🙂

In season 2 episode 8, when John F Kennedy travels to the UK, they meet the Queen and her husband. It’s not just the Queen who’s the lead female though. More than JFK, it is Mrs. Kennedy that has got everyone’s heads turning. Smart, charming, beautiful, dazzling, intelligent, a brilliant conversationalist – on and on her admirers go. So much so that even the Queen’s husband is desperate to get a seat near Mrs. K at the lavish dinner table.

But the (dinner) tables do turn, and make for provoking thought. The Queen is extremely uncomfortable. Why? Because she feels threatened by her adversary. Although she’s not really even her adversary is she? One is the Queen of Great Britain, the other a First Lady of another country. And for crying out loud, she is the Queen! She has everything and more anyone could ever ask for. There ought not to be any comparison at all!

Therein lies the catch. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you have – even if you are the proverbial (or literal) Queen of England. If there is something you do not have however, and if someone else has it, then that immediately takes the Crown (figuratively only :)). What Mrs. K had, the Queen lacked, or so she thought, and the power of insecurity rises to the fore in some wonderful acting. What the Queen doesn’t realize at the time, is that Mrs. K too has her own share of insecurities. Wow, the two most powerful women in the world back in the 1960s, had so many insecurities…

This is not to poke fun – no, not at all. But just a reminder, that deep down, we are all human, and suffer the same human biases. If we can control the mind, that is much better than having a head with a crown on it.

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Angrrr – part 6

Okay okay, last one on anger, I promise! Thought it would be good to round it up with what Thiruvalluvar says about this subject in his Kurals.

A few gems are below:

  1. From anger is born all evil.
  2. Everyone knows that it is bad for oneself to lose temper in dealing with superiors. But where anger is directed against persons in one’s power, it is the worst of all offences.
  3. Where anger may or may not hurt the other party, it simply causes pain to oneself.
  4. Can there be any greater enemy to mankind than anger – which kills laughter and joy (which indeed are the greatest blessings on earth?)

Bonus tips from my Guru on how to overcome anger:
1. Visualize that you are anger-free, say 2 years from now. Keep visualizing and living that image.
2. Pray, for the person you are angry with. Keep their photo on your altar. This is about changing yourself and your emotions and perception, not the other person.

Radical? 🙂

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Angrrr – part 5

Why so much anger? Part 1 2 3 4 and now 5! Maybe because it’s a question that gets asked and discussed so much. And the solutions all require hard work, effort and patience.

But once managed, it can be the most amazing experience.

And lessening of anger is probably one of those sure-fire ways to tell yourself that you are making progress on the spiritual path.

There are two very important points when it comes to anger that I always try to keep in mind.

  1. The trigger for anger might be outside, but the emotion is entirely within us, on the inside. For the same situation, different people elicit different responses, and that means a very angry person can also learn to become less angry and eventually never angry.
  2. The quickest fix for anger is gratitude, even though it might seem unrelated. If you get angry at your parent or child or sibling for something they did, turn that around, i.e. be grateful for the fact that you even have a parent, child or sibling. So many people would give an arm and a leg to be in that position!

Concluded tomorrow…

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Angrrr – part 4

The Gita has two shlokas in chapter 2, viz 2.62 and 2.63 which are known as anger management shlokas.

2.62 states “The wo/man dwelling on sense objects, develops attachment. From attachment springs desire, and from desire (unfulfilled), anger.”

How amazing is this? A step by step deconstruction of anger.

2.63 states “From anger arises delusion, from delusion comes confusion of memory, from that loss of reason, then complete ruin.”

Here’s how my Guru has summarized this in his Amazing Simple Gita purport. “With thoughts come desires. with unfulfilled desire anger ensures, eventually ruin.”

Let’s consider this outstanding perspective. If someone gets angry at us (like a superior at work, or a family member), we think the world has come to an end for us, and that we are scarred for life. But no – the Gita says here that the person who gets angry is the one that will face eventual ruin! So should we really be thinking about what somebody many years ago told us in a fit of rage? Why re-live those bygone words and days today and everyday over and over again? As long as we ourselves do not get angry, we are golden. That should be our goal.

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Angrrr – part 3

Why do we get angry? Because we do not get what we want, or what we think we want. Maybe we want appreciation, but the boss says something else.

People can and will offer us their words, opinions and points of view – and often unsolicited, and at the most inopportune moments. You’re just embarking on a family vacation after ages, and then you get that dreaded call from your CEO. Or you have done some really good work for your society, only to find that you are being badmouthed by certain elements. You want the best for your relatives, but they just choose to ignore your true intentions. Of course these can make you angry – anyone angry. But it can hurt us only if we let it first land in our hearts and minds.

When we were kids, and another kid snatched our favourite toy, we would get so upset. Today, when a kid snatches your son or grandson’s toy (even if the same favourite toy), it doesn’t upset us anymore. We’ve outgrown that stage. There is no attachment to the toy anymore.

Herein lies a solution. If we are over-focused on only one aspect of life, and have no other interests, hobbies, activities etc., then we would find it very hard to take our minds off of something not going right in that one-and-only aspect. But why not diversify? More tomorrow…

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Angrrr – part 2

Continuing from yesterday’s post on anger management. Let’s look at the same example again.

We easily get angry at home, with our loved ones, and often burst out. But when speaking with a superior at work? No matter the insult, we are able to take it in our stride, even if it stings badly. Is our boss really more important than our family?

It is not about getting paid or not getting paid, or whether the other person is a loved one or you care for each other or not. It is simply about taking the other person for granted.

We know at home, that if we get angry and create a scene, the same family members will not throw us out. We have taken them for granted.

But in the office? Raise your voice, and you may never get a raise again or even lose your job. We know the consequences, and are hence able to shut up, despite some rage beginning to boil inside.

Is this justified? More tomorrow…

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Attitude platitude – part 4

My Guru’s brilliant notes on the ‘importance of right attitude’, continues and concludes below:

5. Start the day and end the day with positive input into your mind. Inspirational messages cause the brain to flood with dopamine and norepinephrine, the energizing neurotransmitters; with endorphins - the endurance neurotransmitters; and with serotonin, the feel-good-about-yourself neurotransmitter.

6. Begin and end the day by reading or doing something positive.

7. Remember, success is a process, not an event.

8. Invest your time in your attitude, and it will pay off in your skills as well as your career. Think about it...

What a brilliant note written by the Guru isn’t it? We are all hankering after skills. But hankering after the ‘right attitude’ instead will in turn bring skills, luck, success, fame, fortune and whatever else one desires!

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Attitude platitude – part 2

Continuing from yesterday, my Guru’s typewritten message on the importance of the right attitude.

Perhaps if more people knew how simple it is to develop and maintain a positive attitude, they would invest more time doing so.

So here we go. Five steps to staying positive in a negative world:

1. Understand that failure is an event, it is not a person. Yesterday ended last night; today is a brand new day, and it's yours. You were born to win. But to be a winner, you must plan to win, prepare to win, and then you can expect to win.

2. Become a lifetime student. Learn just one new word ever day, and in five years you will be able to talk with just about anybody on anything. When your vocabulary improves, your IQ goes up 100% of the time, according to Georgetown Medical School.

Continued tomorrow…

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Attitude platitude

Here are a series of posts which will simply cover what my Guru had written in a single typewritten note a few decades ago. It is so fine in its choice of words and intent, that any modifications I make to it will only worsen it. So here it is, with no further ado:

Harvard and Stanford Universities have reported that 85% the reason a person gets a job and gets ahead in that job is due to attitude; and only 15% is because of technical or specific skills. Interesting, isn't it?

You spent how much money on your education? And you spent how much money on building your positive attitude? Ouch! That hurts.

Now here's an interesting thought. With the 'right' attitude, you can and will develop the necessary skills. So where is your emphasis? On skill building? Or on attitude building?

Unfortunately, 'neither' is the real answer for many people.

Continued tomorrow…

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Bubble territory

The financial markets have gone crazy, is the view that many people share today. Excesses of all kinds have made their way to the fore. Bubbles and manias are in the pink-paper headlines often.

The base is always strong. It’s what piles up, that can be…way off. Say a company worth $100, has a 100 shares each worth 1$, and 99 of these do not trade. But that 1 remaining share that does trade, has now found a new buyer. That buyer is willing to pay 50$, for just that one share. You know the new value of the company now? Even though only that 1 new share was traded at $50, all the 100 shares are now implied to be worth $50 as well. This makes the value of the entire company = $50 x 100 shares = $5,000! All because of one trade. The same is true on the downside too. If just the one share was exchanged at $0.5, the company would be valued at $0.5 x 100 shares = $50. This is how extremes get created in the market. A few crazy trades, and suddenly the tide of sentiment has seen a tectonic shift.

It’s not too different with human beings. We too have a solid base. But we let the most recent events – like someone shouting at us, or not believing us, or our inability to clear an exam or such – to define our whole lives. These stray incidents should be seen exactly as that – one-offs. But we extrapolate this to our entire existence, and go into insane levels of depression and anxiety. The opposite is true as well, as we may extrapolate some recent success and take it to the moon, with no ego in check.

We are a sum total of all our life experiences, not just the ones we came across today or yesterday. This is good to keep in mind, so that our moods are always cheerful, and balanced.

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Bed on it

There are some that don’t get sleep until their bodies hit the plush pillows and comfy quilts of a 5-star hotel.

But some have to make do with 3-star hotel arrangements.

Some sleep under the moonlight, on bamboo cots, maybe with mosquito nets.

Many sleep on the floor in their homes, on just a thin bedsheet.

Those in poverty, sleep under flyovers, with no one to care for them.

Some share beds with two others, oxygen cylinders supplementing their breathing efforts.

Some don’t get ICU beds, despite the criticality.

If we just have a bed at home to sleep peacefully – how unbelievable lucky are we?

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Lockdown

“Isolation” and “Quarantine” and “Lockdown”. Three words that have suddenly become commonplace, all thanks to the Covid situation. Most people everywhere seem to be cribbing big time. “I’m so sick of staying at home. Just can’t wait for things to open up. I hate this lockdown business. Can’t even go anywhere. I really miss my vacations and international trips.”

But a change in mindset is necessary. An entitled person may think sitting at home unable to travel for pleasure is bad. But how about those people who are isolated in hospital wards, separated from their loved ones, stuck on a hospital bed amongst hundreds of others, breathing into tubes attached to cylinders, with no indication of when their ordeal would end. Isn’t that infinitely worse? And then there are those that desperately need hospitals / ICUs / beds but these are all full. What of them?

As an Indian army jawan noted on his Linkedin post – “Don’t be scared of isolation. My longest spell was on Siachen glacier, lasting 138 days, with 98 days of intense firing. All 19 of us survived 100s of kilos of TNT. I lost 19 kilos of weight, and took bath after 138 days. The minimum temperature was -50-degrees Celcius.”

What are the rest of us cribbing about? We must be deeply cognizant that anyone stepping out for any reason could be the cause for someone else falling sick or losing a loved one. It is our duty to stay indoors and safe, until all this bad news passes.

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Train for this

There’s a CCTV video recording that you must watch. It’s hardly 30 seconds long.

It shows one of Mumbai’s railway stations. A blind woman and her young son are walking on the platform next to the train tracks. The boy unfortunately falls onto the tracks, and the blind mother is seen to be screaming for help. A train can be seen approaching from the other side.

Mayur Shelkhe, a pointsman at the railway station, comes running at a pace that would make Usain Bolt proud. He reaches the boy, picks him up, shoves him back onto the platform, and then climbs back to safety, with just milliseconds to spare. A moment late, and this would be end-of-story not just for the child, but for him also. I don’t know which quality was more pronounced – his presence of mind, or his selflessness?

Watching the video is like watching a thriller movie – except that this was real life. What I found more thrilling though, was this. Mayur was awarded INR 50,000 (~670 US$) for his bravery. While it is a very small amount to start with, he still proceeded to donate a substantial portion of this amount to the blind lady and her son, in order that she use it for the child’s education.

How awesome is that? So much for me to learn from. A true hero he is, if there was ever one. Here’s the Video link.

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Visual creatures – part 2

We touched upon the importance of visualization yesterday. Here’s a nice example that I saw on the famous TV series called Shark Tank. This is how Wikipedia describes the show – “Shark Tank is an American business reality television series that premiered on August 9, 2009 on ABC. It shows entrepreneurs making business presentations to a panel of five investors or “sharks,” who decide whether or not to invest in their companies.”

As you can imagine, this is a make or break moment for most entrepreneurs, given they could rope in a billionaire ‘shark’ to help grow their business by hundreds of millions of dollars. Sometimes even just appearing on the show, without winning a shark’s investment itself can be free marketing. Also obvious, is that the path is not easy. Just getting featured on shark tank, amongst countless thousands of other businesses, is excruciatingly hard, what with a gruelling selection / elimination process.

One lady who was featured in the 12th season was presenting her product. Once she finished her demo, she also played a video clip from 4-5 years ago. This was back when she had just begun her business, and all she had was a few prototypes of her product. Back then itself, she looks into her phone camera, and records herself speaking to the investors, “Sharks – I’m coming to see you on Shark Tank in a few years, and as you can see, these are my prototypes, and I’m coming to you with my finished product in a few years, with an awesome sales track record too!”

What an incredible way to visualize, record it for posterity, and then work one’s backside off until said goal is achieved!

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Possible?

My Guru keeps giving the example of Roger Bannister (RB). In 1954, RB ran one mile in under 4 minutes.

He was the very first person to do so. His doctors had advised him before the run, that he should not go so fast, otherwise his organs would go all over the place, his body cannot take it and that he would die.

Of course, none of the warnings came to pass, and RB did indeed run the mile in under 4 minutes. What an achievement!

But funnily enough, RB was not the last. After his feat, almost every decade thereafter, someone or the other has been besting his record.

The current title is held by a Moroccan, Hicham El Guerrouj, who completed the mile in 3 mins and 43 seconds!

The actual time taken itself doesn’t matter. But it’s amazing how the human psyche works. Until someone else does it, it is considered impossible. But once it has been done, then there’s a line of people who follow it up, and even better it!

My simple learning from this, is that we don’t need to wait for anyone else. As the saying goes, even Impossible says I’m possible. And we’re each uniquely positioned to do things that no one else can (please see Mosaic Man).

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Masculinity

There’s an excellent interview on Youtube of ex-US President Mr. Barack Obama. It’s a very short clip – hardly two minutes long. He is quizzed on what masculinity is, what it means to be macho. Mr. Obama’s response, as expected of him, is simple yet profound.

He says that “a man doesn’t need eight women around you twerking to show their masculinity”. When we see most music videos / ads / movies / magazines / item numbers in songs etc. – they all seem to capture this exact theme – machoism and womanizing.

Instead, Mr. Obama clarifies that what makes a good man, is “first and foremost being a good human being and that means being responsible, being reliable, working hard, being kind, being respectful, being compassionate. The notion that being a man is to put somebody down rather than lift them up is an old view.”

Such a lovely thought, isn’t it? In the spirit of equality, no doubt this applies to women as well – because at the core of this life of ours, we are all human beings first.

We become great when we make others around us great, and this starts by treating them as though they are already great.

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Hair scare

One of the satsangis in a recent youth session narrated a nice short incident.

A Jain monk had shaved his head completely. Nothing out of the ordinary. Someone still asked him why he did it. The monk replied that he too previously had tried everything – oils, shampoos, conditioners, balms – you name it.

The he realized something profound, and said “Shareeri se a-shareeri hone tak sab kuch chutega”, which means – by the time we go from birth to death, everything will have been forgone. That is just the way of life. Youthfulness, energy, black hair, white hair, any hair – everyone will have to leave all these things behind at the end.

If one is on the spiritual path, one would do well to make peace with the end – well before the end. If despite having all the knowledge in the world, one is still worried about the hair on the head, then of what use is spirituality? We need to leave these things well before they leave us.

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So passionate

The whole world seems to be trying to find it’s passion. Everyone going to office to work is unhappy about something or the other. “Why am I even doing this? I wish I could be passionate about my job. I wish I could find my real calling in life.”

Most of the stories of people suddenly chancing upon their ‘passion’, and then becoming overnight stars are all horsecrap. The janitor who became a singing sensation on Somebody’s Got Talent? He practised his vocal chords off to the point of tearing them for only the past 30 years – and also kept his janitor job to boot. One day, as it would seem, his passion came calling.

We’ve to be clear about what passion is, and what inspiration is or excitement is. If looking at an artist do his work, or Steve Jobs or Elon Musk do theirs makes us want where they are, then we are only wanting the end result. It is unlikely we will have the perseverance and grit to even withstand their naysayers, let alone send rockets to distant planets. Everyone’s life is hard – to varying degrees of course, but the easiest way to make it easy, is to love thy work.

Whatever the work may be, if we can do it with 100% focus on the work, this very moment, without thinking of anything else, then the kind of quality we will give to our work will be unmatched. Also, if we give this kind of quality to our work for long periods of time, the same work will automatically be seen by others to be our passion. Finally, if we can add compassion to passion, that will take it to the next level.

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Twit quot 2

Here are some more simple yet profound quotes I came across on Twitter:

The way to forget insults is to not take compliments in the first place.
When in doubt, go for a walk.
Don't worry about being qualified. Everyone is learning as they go.
Reading 1-2 hours a day puts me in the top 0.00001%.
In the short term you are as good as your intensity. In the long term, you are as good as your consistency.

Link to Twit quot 1

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Cat-ch me if you can

We’ve got two cats in our building. And their personalities couldn’t be more different.

One guy seems really affectionate. He’ll come up slowly, and try to snuggle. Once he knows you’re in the vicinity, he’ll find his way to you. If you’re sitting somewhere, he’ll try his best to come and sit on your lap as well. You’re already familiar with him, and have seen him do this before here.

But he’s also the jumpy kind. He’ll take a few back scratches, but the moment he hears a sound, he’ll get super alert. If we’re walking and he’s strolling too, and if we crack a leaf or something, he’ll literally jump and run away. It’s in his nature of course, that’s who he is.

Then there’s the other one – “mommy cat” as well call her – given she’s given birth multiple times, and most recently a few weeks ago. This one is not as affectionate, although she will come running once she knows you’re around. She’s quite the talkative one – you just say anything and she will keep meaow-ing like she’s a part of the conversation.

One thing is for sure – is that she’s always living in the moment. Start to give her a bum scratch, and oh can you make out how much she loves it. She doesn’t care one hoot about any sound around her. Some face rubs and under-the-chin rubs – you can make out she goes to paradise, with her eyes closing down quicker than I’d shut my work laptop on a Friday evening.

Lots for me to learn from them – on being affectionate, and happily living in the present.

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Bricked

Here’s a nice story that was narrated in one of our weekly satsangs.

A brick layer’s job to build a temple paid 1 rupee per brick.

One person laid bricks grudgingly, always complaining that 1 rupee was too little money, that there were no jobs available and that this brick laying is so hard.

The second brick layer in the same temple said his job was good because he was able to make a steady wage to feed his family and educate his children.

Brick layer 3 said, “Wow am I lucky – I have been chosen to serve the Lord and build a temple. And what’s more, I’m even getting paid 1 rupee per brick for it!”

Same work, different attitude. Which one in your view do you think brings success?

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PR / FAQ

PR / FAQ. It stands for Press Release / Frequently Asked Questions.

Surely we’ve all seen these before. When a new service or product is launched, it comes along with a PR / FAQ. The former announces the launch to some detail, while the latter explains some of the nuances that are not immediately obvious.

What is awesome, is that any new product in Amazon (world’s largest company by market-cap ~US$ 1.6 Trn at the time of this writing) begins with PR/FAQ. Begins, not ends. They call it ‘working backwards’. So this is the first step in the creation process instead of typically being the last! They do this because they begin with customer delight and customer experience as the focus. Writing a PR/FAQ upfront highlights to them everything they want the end product or service to feel like, the features it should have, the final look and feel etc. It also gives them full clarity on what the final product should be – right at the start.

This is completely the opposite of what many people set out to do, and I would be the first on that list. When given a task, I prefer to jump right in and begin ‘working’, than pause to think and reflect. This means I might go into several loops of making mistakes, and wasting much time correcting them – mainly because the roadmap isn’t clear.

Starting with PR/FAQ can be applied in many other ways too. For instance, it can help visualize a goal (whether work-oriented, or otherwise) and prepare one’s schedule or timetable and flesh out the details. It can also help with relationships because it gives clarity upfront, rather than postponing important discussions and conversations. The important thing is to begin with customer delight / partner delight / other-person delight, the rest will follow. I also like that when said quickly, it sounds like ‘perfect’ – i.e. “pr/faq” 🙂

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Bharatha 600BC

There is an awesome board game called Bharatha 600BC, created and released by a company called GoIndia Games. It’s quite unique because such games that are made in India are rare. The map of the game itself is beautiful – featuring ancient India from – you guessed it – 600 BC!

The game makes for fun family bonding time – especially offering a clean hour or three. ‘Clean’ meaning no screen diversions (mobiles, tablets, TVs etc) – wow is that even possible these days?

The board game has plenty of paths to victory – and one can use tact, strategy, battle, speed, rationing (i.e. hoarding) of resources, using special cards – you name it.

One interesting thing that happens when we play with my mother, is that she will never battle, and she will also always ‘give up’ resources for the rest of the family to win. “Oh, how can I battle my own son!”, or “You want resources, here take mine” – much to the groans of others “come on ma, this is supposed to be a competitive game – leave your familial bonds aside!”

While there are groans during the game, one must look behind the curtain. The motherly love kicks in with feelings of compassion overruling everything else – and not just during board games but even otherwise. What if we too can apply such compassion/empathy all the time. Just like the Guru does. Wouldn’t that be the true application of everything we learn in our scriptures?

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Foggy

Alan Alda, the American actor and 6-time Emmy and Golden Globe winner once said, “Your assumptions are your windows to the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.”

This might seem obvious, but its effective implementation is worth its weight in gold.

The real problem is that these windows are not dirtied by others. They are dirtied by we ourselves, after imagining what others are thinking about us.

So much so, that sometimes being blind is better, as shown in the very popular Marvel TV show called Daredevil. The protagonist has superhero abilities, but cannot see. This lack of vision though, gives him much clarity in other walks of life. Contrast that to his best friend and partner – ironically named ‘Foggy’ – who lives by making large (and silly) assumptions and getting himself into trouble.

Scrubbing our windows needs courage and the ability to recognize that we may have been wrong – often publicly. And it’s infinitely better to be wrong and corrected on Step 1 than on Step 100, by which time, it might be too late.

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Scales

We are often faced with situations where we need good constructive feedback.

Maybe you’ve written a poem or an article, but don’t know how well it’ll be received. Or you’ve got an idea – which you plan to discuss with the higher-ups, but are not sure if it’ll fly. Or maybe you just want to know if the dress you’re planning to wear is good. Perhaps we just want to know if the way we spoke at an important meeting was alright.

The reasons for seeking feedback could be many. But the challenge of receiving it is the same. Most responses will just be, “Yes, it was good.” or “Yes, it was nice.” What does one do with such generic feel-gooders?

I came across a nice hack which I feel is very useful. Instead of asking people whether they liked something or not, ask them to rate it on a scale of 1 to 10. And tell them that 7 is not an option. And also ask them what it would take to get their rating up to a 10. You’ll be surprised by how much more specific and constructive the feedback can be!

One word of caution though, if your wife tries to use this tactic on you, the right answer is always 11. Kidding! Or not! 🙂

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Lessons from a wildebeest

Human babies are pretty much useless at fending for themselves. They can do nothing more than suckle and cry at a really loud volume.

But wildebeest babies? Man do they have it tough!

A new born wildebeest’s mother – for many hours after the calf is born – doesn’t even let it suckle. The reason? Safety from predators who abound.

The wildebeest calf must first stand up on its own. It’s mother keeps moving further and further away from her calf, forcing the latter to start following her – first by walking, and then by running. Only when the calf is able to run properly after a few hours, does the mother allow her baby to have her first milk.

Three things struck me, as I watched this on a BBC Earth show.

  1. How lucky we are – despite having no ability to run or walk at birth, we are kept safe.
  2. There is no room for crying or cribbing – run, or die.
  3. If we struggle at the start itself, in anything we do in life, this would form the foundation for future success.
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Disastittude

  1. She had worked really hard on her presentation. All of last week. Little sleep and plenty of sweat, and tears.
  2. Now it was ready. All external dependencies, and myriad coordinations, checked and resolved, approvals sought.
  3. Mail drafted, and ready to send. This would put her in the upper leagues. People would take notice.
  4. And then came the phone call. Some of her data points in chapter 3 were incorrect. Taken innocuously from a defunct source.
  5. The correction would take time. Maybe a couple of weeks if not more.
  6. Oh what a bummer. She felt like the world came crashing down.
  7. Irritated. Frustrated. She hated delays. She also hated going back to the drawing board.
  8. Then she realized. This was not a disaster, rather, she was saved from one.
  9. Imagine if her email with the wrong presentation and data had gone out. What a mess that would have been!
  10. It was just a week from annual appraisal day too. Her bonus could have been slashed, and promotion rescinded.
  11. Her frustration abated momentarily, and her gratitude for Divinity’s mysterious ways gushed to the fore.
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Rich is poor

Know what 80% of the people chose in a research study? See the two options. a) Make US$ 36,000 in a firm where the starting salary was US$ 40,000. or b) Make US$ 34,000 in a firm where the average salary was US$ 30,000. 80% chose the latter. That’s what would make them happy. Can you imagine that? We all want to be happy, but that happiness it seems, is governed not just by our own possessions, but also those of the others around us. i.e. Wealth is relative, not absolute.

I saw that it was the artificial needs of life that made me a slave; the real needs of life were few

William James Dawson

We’ve explored here previously the concept of the hedonic treadmill. We are running on one, where no matter how fast we go, we never seem to reach our destination. And we are often running not even for ourselves, but for others. No wonder then, that happiness is but fleeting.

As Benjamin Franklin wisely observed, “It is the eyes of others and not our own eyes that ruin us. If all the world were blind except myself I should not care for fine clothes or furniture.”

Epicurus said beautifully, “Contented poverty is an honourable estate. Indeed, if it be contented, it is not poverty at all. It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor.”

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Twit quot 1

While there is a lot of bad press associated with social media, there is one big positive that I’ve found. And that is people’s quotes on life / spirituality. Sure, some might be copied off of some other book, maybe even our scriptures, but reading these are just amazing, and make me think. A few are shared here, picked randomly, from Twitter.

You won't lose respect for saying "I don't know". But you will lose respect for making things up.
Don't let money get in the way of wealth
You always have the option of having no opinion.
The mind gives up before the body.
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The secret converter

Years ago we…

… had a problem at work, but today that is a laughing matter
… had a major fight with the other kids at school, but today that is a laughing matter
… had a complaint to your parents from the principal, but today that is a laughing matter
… had an altercation with a close friend, but today that is a laughing matter
… had a major argument with the spouse, but today that is a laughing matter
… had a tussle with the landlord, but today that is a laughing matter
… had an issue with your kids’ schooling, but today that is a laughing matter
… had so many worries about the future, but today that is a laughing matter
… had so much stress and tension about…something, don’t even remember, but today that is a laughing matter

Looking back from today, all those anxieties and worries – everything has been forgotten, and got converted into nothing more than a laughing matter – what a miracle, isn’t it?!

Now that we know and understand everything gets converted into a laughing matter in the future, why not laugh today itself?

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Oh stress

Everyone is stressed today. Even toddlers, in the face of gargantuan expectations of success from their parents.

The sheer number of kids competing in junior Olympiads, reality TV shows for best dancer, best singer, best chef and what not. Many more categories have been added by the hour, surely.

If these are done with love, fun and enjoyment, then absolutely no problem. But in reality (pun intended), these are for quick fame, and quicker moolah.

If childhood itself begins with stress, little chance of youth or young adulthood and beyond not going down the same path. If childhood itself begins with fierce competition – and not everyone wins every single time – then what is to say of later life?

As noted previously here, it is important to take life sincerely, but not seriously.

Bertrand Russell had the last say on this, ‘If you’re beginning to think that what you’re doing is very important, you need to take a holiday.’

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Free size

Here’s the thing about self-help and spirituality. One size rarely fits all. The goal is the same – to attain moksha or liberation. But the paths are many. Krishna tells Arjuna about karma yoga, bhakti yoga and jnana yoga in the Gita. Even within these, the actual methods to be followed could be different. One might see great success following a 15-minute meditation plan a day. Others might struggle despite an hour of chanting.

In Dale Carnegie’s (DC) How to Win Friends and Influence People, there is a superb statement. The secret he says, is to interest people and build in them a genuine want, if you need them to do something for you. He gives a couple of solid examples too – such as how to get an irate tenant to pay his full rent rather than leave midway, and how a poor newspaper owner got a celebrity to write a star column on his paper.

But as he himself says, a common pushback would be, “Hey these examples are fine, but do these principles work for the tough monsters I have to face in my daily life?”

Here is DC’s amazing response. “You may be right. Nothing will work in all cases. And nothing will work with all people. If you are satisfied with the results you are now getting, then why change? If you are not satisfied, then why not experiment?”

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Fear to become

Have we not feared, every step of our way to today? Those terrible kindergarten days, where we hated being separated from our parents. Moving to a new place, not knowing if we would be accepted in the school there. Joining a sports class, only to be bullied by some of the seniors. Entering the workplace – our very first day at work – the butterflies, the discomfort – is always there. When we are on the cusp of progress, we always have a tendency to look back. Seeing all the obstacles we overcame, we must ideally feel a great deal of strength, knowing that if we go through all this all these years, we can get through anything.

All of this reminds me of Khalil Gibran’s outstanding poem titled Fear. The premise is beautiful. It speaks of a river that has meandered its way through mountains, winding roads, plains, forests, villages and what not. Now the river is in front of the ocean, about to enter it. That’s when it looks back at its journey, and trembles. Seeing such a vast ocean, the river is worried about disappearing into it forever. The rest is too good to paraphrase, so here is the original:

But there is no other way.
The river can not go back.

Nobody can go back.
To go back is impossible in existence.

The river needs to take the risk
of entering the ocean
because only then will fear disappear,
because that’s where the river will know
it’s not about disappearing into the ocean,
but of becoming the ocean.

I get goose bumps each time I read this.

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Take less stress

A simple principle to follow could be one of inversion. Continuing on from yesterday’s post titled ‘Take more stress’, here are some examples of useful inversion.

The things we are stressed about, and (how to invert them):

  1. landing a better job, (enjoying our current job to the fullest)
  2. earning more money, (living in contentment)
  3. finding a good spouse / partner, (being a good spouse/partner/person)
  4. having a good family, (loving the family you have, and being a dependable family person)
  5. going on a quality vacation, (living every moment like it’s a vacation)
  6. being recognized in society, (working for society)
  7. working to fulfil our kids desires, even if they don’t reciprocate, (allowing the kids to live their own lives, and taking care of your loved ones with no expectations)

On doing these, we will perhaps come to realize what Gandhi ji said, that peace is not a destination, but a path. Moksha is no different, and as my Guru says, available here and now to one and all.

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Last resort

Resort 1: Brand new property. Glistening fixtures and fittings. 2500 sqft room – almost palatial. King-plus size plush bed, with bed warmers. Toiletries from a 5 star brand. Food plated in true 7-star style.

You spend a day here and then need to head back. As you have breakfast, a thought occurs to you. You have a long drive back home. So you request the resort to pack a few slices of bread from the breakfast buffet. “Certainly sir, and may we add some potato fries as well?”. Sure you think. And then ten minutes later, they hand over a small parcel with the food, and also slap a 1500 rupee bill. How do you feel?

Resort 2: Decent property, definitely not new. Fittings have worn out, and the paint is chipping away. 500 sqft room – as much as any other normal hotel room. Queen size bed, with no bells or whistles. Unbranded toiletries. Food is homely and tasty.

You spend a day here and then need to head back. As you have breakfast, a thought occurs to you. You have a long drive back home. So you request the resort to pack a few slices of bread from the breakfast buffet. “Certainly sir”. And then ten minutes later, they hand over a simple parcel with not just bread, but also butter, some fresh juice and a few fruits. “This is on the house sir, thank you for your stay, hope you enjoyed it”. How do you feel?

Which would you prefer – resort 1 or resort 2? Is it about money, or attitude? Do we treat others the same way we want to be treated?

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Lessons from letter writing

We would have all learnt to write formal letters in school. We would start with the date up top, then put a to address, then subject, then body of the letter and then finally sign off.

This last bit is where we were taught to end with “Thanking you; Yours Sincerely”, and that got me thinking. These two together summed up how to live life – peaceful and happy, with no place for stress or anxiety!

How? The first one is easy. ‘Thanking you’ is symbolic of gratitude. Just being grateful is enough to move our mind from a constant state of worry about the future, into happiness for the present.

The second one ‘Yours sincerely’, represents how we must carry out our work / duties. What I’m guilty of though, is being too serious instead of sincere, i.e. ‘Yours Seriously’. How can I enjoy my work then? Of course I will feel anxious. Replacing seriousness with sincerity is the answer, focusing on enjoying the process without worrying about the result.

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Wake up

In their 2001 hit song Chop Suey, American band System of a Down crooned “Wake up wake up, grab a brush and put a little make up. Hide the scars to fade away the shake-up”. The song was intense to say the least, and while the rest of it is irrelevant, this portion well summarizes how many begin their day – stressed, anxious, shaken-up and somewhat empty inside.

“How do I get rid of stress and anxiety?” is the title of a YouTube video I recently watched. The question was asked by Indian Bollywood celebrity Suresh Oberoi to Shivani didi of the global Brahmakumaris movement.

Her response was crisp, simple, practical and immediately actionable.

  1. Our thoughts and words manifest into the reality around us, albeit with a time lag.
  2. Therefore, we must think and speak positive, not negative.
  3. This positivity can only be generated from within, as we do not have control over what goes on outside.
  4. Do not look at your phone for the first 30 to 60 minutes after waking up. This prevents us from falling into the clutches of the world, which tends to send all sorts of negative ideas and emotions.
  5. Start with gratitude. Before even opening your eyes, feel grateful for your life, healthy body, family, money, opportunities etc. This will over the course of a few days significantly reduce our complaining / criticising behaviour.
  6. Choose and repeat a few affirmations relevant to you. Like “I am enjoying my work, and am very successful”, or “I am very healthy and healed” or “I have amazing relationships” etc.

That’s it. Easy to practise? Found it useful?

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Small tiny atomic

Atomic Habits. Surely you’ve heard of this book, or seen it on some Amazon ad or maybe at a bookstore somewhere. I haven’t read it yet. But judging by the reviews it has got, it must be quite a read.

But the title is what got me reflecting. We tend to chase after all the big things in life. A big bonus, a big promotion, a big house, a big vacation, a big celebration. We want everything king size. Nothing wrong with this as such. But do we have much control over them? Hardly.

But the smaller things? These are the things we do daily, maybe multiple times a day. Repeated execution has brought perfection to these actions, leading to habits. And these are the things that really really matter. Especially if the habits in question are bad ones, and changing them can result in amazing positive impact. Here are 2 that come to my mind, which I’m trying to change – step by step.

  1. My speed and frequency of chewing. Yup, as simple as that. But it’s importance is underappreciated. Ayurveda estimates over 80-90% of all disease is caused by poor gut health. Given our hectic lifestyles and limited attention spans, we eat way too fast. Indigestion and other stomach troubles eventually manifest in all sorts of problems – even those seemingly nowhere connected to the stomach.
  2. Being mindful and living in each moment. Even on a holiday, I’m scarcely able to sit and take in the beautiful scenery and lovely breeze hitting my face. Instead I’m swamped with thoughts about returning to work, what to read, how to progress and what not. Each time this happens, I try to consciously bring myself back to the present. No rocket science.

Small is indeed beautiful. One step at a time. What are your top tiny habits you are trying to change? Do share your thoughts in the comments below please!

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Talk the walk

Many many years ago, a man and his mentor were at a railway station. They came across an elderly couple, probably in their eighties, their frail bodies clothed in rags and their arms outstretched, begging for alms. The mentor handed his man a crisp 100 rupee note. “Please go and get this changed into smaller denominations.” When the man came back with smaller notes and coins, his mentor told him, “Now please put all of the notes and coins into their begging bowls.”

The mentee did as he was instructed. He then had a follow up question for his mentor. “Sir, I thought you asked me to get the smaller denominations so that you could maybe put 10 rupees into the bowl, and not the full 100. If you anyway wanted to put the 100, then why did you not use the 100 rupee note directly?”

The mentor said, “Two reasons, my dear. First, they are an old couple, and their safety is paramount. If we leave a larger note out there, it is possible or even likely others might thrash them and steal it. Or a policeman might bully them, querying where they found (stole) such a large note. Secondly, it’s a mind trick, in favour of the couple. If their bowl has just one 100 rupee note, it is unlikely they will get more. But if they have several smaller notes and coins, more people might come up and donate. This is because people do not like to be the first and only, but most are happy to follow suit once someone has already raised their hands first.”

The man was elated by the outstanding lesson on empathy he had just learned. Not just in talk, but in walk as well. All glories to such realized souls.

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Carma

At the valet parking area of a renowned 5 star hotel, the owner of an old and tiny Hyundai i10 was waiting for his car to be brought to him.

He watched, as the valets buzzed about, servicing their guests and deftly moving from car to car. One valet drove up in great style in a brand new Mercedes Benz AMG GLE Coupe. The Coupe owner took the keys and handed the valet a crisp couple of notes. The smile on the valet’s face was telling of his satisfaction.

The compact car owner thought to himself, “Wow these valets have it so good. I can’t even dream of driving these sporty beauties. That Mercedes GLE is a special edition model – just 10 of them in the whole world!”

Little did he know the thoughts running in the valet’s mind. “Oh these rich folks – such show-offs. And having to drive their cars? Back and forth, back and forth, from the reception area to the parking lot, a 100 times a day. Can there be anything more repetitive and boring? With the money I make, I barely make ends meet. My school going son would love it so much if I could own even just a simple car. Even an old dilapidated Hyundai i10 would be perfect.”

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2021

A simple but important blog post to ring in the new year. Here are five things for me to work on, so as to get the best from 2021.

  1. Every day, all day, be happy and grateful for everything we already have. Success, money, fame will come automatically.
  2. Zero compromise on health (i.e. proper nutrition and exercise) – for if there’s one thing an invisible virus from 2020 has taught us, it is that without a fit body and mind, everything else is pointless.
  3. Give / donate / help generously and selflessly. This is the only way to purify the mind and intellect. (Why? Because it removes the notion of ego / i-i-i)
  4. Join a satsang and / or actively participate in one. Repeatedly dunking the mind in scriptural knowledge as guided by the Guru and applying it in our lives will fast track our spiritual transformation.
  5. Enjoy every single moment, and look at every stumbling block as an opportunity to improve. As they say, there are no failures, only lessons.

Are these easy to follow? Do you have other things you would like to focus on? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below. All the best for 2021!

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Praise the struggle(r)

A new Tamil movie released directly-to-home, i.e. bypassing cinema theatres, as many of the latter are still pandemic-shut. The movie titled Soorarai Pottru translates to ‘Praise the Brave’. It loosely chronicles the life and successes of Capt. Gopinath who launched Air Deccan – India’s first affordable airlines for the common man, from back in the early 2000s.

There were a lot of learnings for me from watching the man’s incessant struggles. (Spoiler Alert!) He is driven by just one goal – to enable the common man to fly. While this might seem normal today, flying was only for the elites back then. The protagonist (an Indian Air Force pilot) himself is unable to reach home in time to see his father on his death bed as he is short of funds to buy his plane ticket. He ends up hitching rides of various kinds, reaching his village by road just as the funeral rites commence.

There is the obvious clique of villains, none of whom want competition for their own elite airlines. Despite all kinds of attempts to derail (or should it be deplane!) progress, the Captain never ever gives up. In the worst of times, he goes so far as to part-create a chance meeting with the President of the country resulting in a lifeline for his carrier. The film also showcases the importance of values, family bonding, goal setting and never giving up no matter the adversity.

While some parts of the movie seemed hyperbolic (probably for cinematic effect), there is no doubt Capt. Gopinath struggled his way to success. And as every struggler would attest to, it is the struggle alone that makes the victory sweet. Just ask the butterfly that came out the cocoon, as the struggle alone makes its wings strong enough for flight.

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You are the best/worst

Since the day we were born, we have only been trying to please others. Why? Not necessarily for others’ sakes. But because it makes us feel good. We love the support, acknowledgement and adulation.

If we’d said the words ‘mama’ or ‘papa’ correctly, we would have been rewarded with big smiles and claps. If we built nothing more than a vertical tower of a few blocks of toys one on top of the other, we would have been showered with hugs and kisses “Wow! My baby is a genius!”.

In school and college as well, getting appreciated by our teachers and professors, and even by our friends and peers was a big thing. No great shakes then that this continues into professional life too. We don’t mind working weekends and late nights, so that we get the accolades from our bosses, in the hope we will be promoted this year or the next.

Think of any famous person – whether politician or actor or chef. How many people like them? How many people do not like them? Their fan following is often deeply divided.

So, is expecting praise wrong? Not at all. But we have become so conditioned by praise that the lack of it throws us into reverse gear. And even worse? We do not know how to deal with the other extreme, which is sharp criticism. Sure, we must not hurt or criticise others. But on the receiving end, we have no control over what others think or say. One bad comment can lead to fear of the future and in some cases even severe depression. We can help our cause by reminding ourselves that it is okay to receive flak. What is in our control – and hence what we can focus on – is our willingness and action to better ourselves and do good for society and the world.

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Acronyms of a liberated soul

Just a fun post this one (aren’t they all!). Here’s how a liberated soul might react to some common acronyms:

ICYMI – In Case You Missed It – “There is nothing to miss, because nothing ever was.”
BRB – Be Right Back – “How can you be so sure? It is all a play of the Supreme”
AFAIK – As Far As I Know – “We know nothing. Even Saraswati says she knows less than 1% of all creation.’
G2G – Got To Go – “What is the hurry? In a 100 years from now, none of us will matter”
BTW – By The Way – “All ways lead only to Him.”
YOLO – You Only Live Once – “Couldn’t be further from the truth.”
OMG – Oh My God – “Why do you exclaim only in times of need? There is nothing besides God”
IMHO – In My Humble Opinion – “I have no opinion, it is all God’s plan and His doing only”
IDK – I Don’t Know – “Yes, you are right on that one”
LOL – Laughing Out Loud – “I’ll join you, because life is fun.”
FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions – “What is Brahman, Aatman, Paramatman, Maya, Moksha?”
DIY – Do It Yourself – “Who else will? You came alone, you will go alone.”

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What makes us different

Name one person from history, who attained infinite peace from his/her:
– money
– title / status
– beauty
– immortality
– relationships
– accolades received from society

Which of these above are permanent features of our lives?

Are we ourselves permanent features?

Are we any different from all those people who have come and gone?

Do we want what is permanently good, or what is deceptively good?

We must think of the consequences of our thoughts, habits, desires and actions – and evaluate if what we want is really what we need.

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The Conjuring

Day 1: I’m finally going on a holiday. Next week. To Maldives. After an incessant workload this past year, compounded by the pandemic, and having had no opportunities for breaks in between. I’m so happy!

Day 2: There is no respite from work. Today’s workload has been the worst this whole year. But it is fine. My holiday is coming up, and the workload actually feels light. Happiness abounds.

Day 3: Mentally I’m already in The Maldives. The virtual smell of sand and salt water. Is this paradise already?

Day 4: Something has come up at work. A teammate had to take emergency leave. My trip has to be postponed. There is no alternative. Today, my workload is really less, but it feels like I am doing the entire company’s work singlehandedly. I’m feeling not just angry or dejected, but also tired.

Day 5: But there is a very good learning for me from all this. I have experienced a range of emotions from extreme joy to extreme despair. All these because of The Maldives vacation. But also all these without once setting foot in that country or beginning my vacation. Everything was just playing out in my mind. The actual reality? Irrelevant. Only what my mind was conjuring up mattered. Then why don’t I always conjure up good things?

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1+1=?

Dominos Pizza recently launched a new pizza. My first reaction was “What kind of a weird combination is this?” The same reaction I observed in some of my colleagues / friends / family members as well when it came up for discussion.

The combo was that of pasta and pizza. Or rather pasta on top of the pizza. Who even came up with such an idea?

Of course we know things like “Do not judge a book by its cover” or “Beauty is only skin deep”. But I still couldn’t help but wonder who would have thought up putting this portmanteau of a dish together.

Having tried the pasta-pizza though, I was really surprised at how good it tasted. Not only did each individual dish retain its own flavour, but their synergistic convergence was drool inducing, and had me thinking about eating more slices long after the box had been emptied and thrown away.

So it is, that the whole can always be greater than the sum of its parts, as long as each ingredient gives its best to the mix. This is relevant for people as well. Instead of bringing up ego battles when two stalwarts come together, it is far more beneficial if they work together for mutual and wider benefit. The same goes for us. We each have many many wonderful things to contribute to the world. Why should our ego be one of them?

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Why I’m (not) incompetent

As toddlers, when we wanted to speak better, we were surrounded by those who spoke well, and just kept repeating the same gibberish over and over. Today as an adult language learner, if we are in the company of a native speaker, we feel incompetent.

Where we previously studied and memorised many lists for many exams, today we feel incompetent. If someone at the workplace has better ideas than us, or gets promoted, we feel incompetent. Even at home, if a sibling or a cousin achieves more than us, we feel incompetent.

Incompetence is not jealousy, although it could stem from it. Incompetence is only an excuse to doing better, not a solution. It is this very same feeling of incompetence that leads to depression. Despite having everything, an unsolicited and unnecessary comparison to peers throws life off track.

What if we were to just accept the situation and let go? We are not very good at something? Okay so be it. If we can try to improve, then great, otherwise also great. In the long run, values matter more than skills, because skills can be outsourced and values cannot. Incompetence in values can and must be fixed. Peer comparison in skills is a waste of time, but trying to be the best most-humane person? Always a good thing!

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Had a rough day today?

Had a rough day today?

Somewhere, a barnacle goose gosling is laughing it’s tiny head off.

Chronicled beautifully in BBC Earth’s Life Story, the little fellow epitomizes the resilience of life. He also teaches us about the abundance in our own lives, and how little we appreciate this.

Barnacle geese found often in Greenland and Siberia, lay their eggs high in Arctic cliffs, 100s of metres above land. They do this to safeguard their chicks from predators. Once hatched though, the chicks need to feed on grass, found only on the land below. The goslings can’t fly yet, being just one day old. Hence they have no choice but to jump off the cliffs, and hope to land in one piece at the bottom. Their trips down are dramatic – to say the least. Their minuscule heads and bodies dash against the cliff face, bouncing from one rock to the next as gravity causes them to plunge down at breakneck speed. The survivors (not all make it) hit the ground and must keep moving to reunite with their parent geese. No looking back, no licking their wounds, no time to brood or gain sympathy.

You can watch the 5 minute video here. Totally worth it!

So, had a rough day today?

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Cul de sac

A cul de sac is a French expression, but is often used in English as well. It refers to a road that is only open on one side, aka – a dead end.

Life itself is a dead end, quite literally. One can have all sorts of aspirations and ambitions, but when life is done, those materialistic dreams are of no value to the dreamer as the dreamer is no more.

Although we may consider our own achievements very personal, nothing has been or can be done without external support. As Thiruvalluvar says in one of his Kurals, even an unmarried student and an austere hermit can carry on their duties only because others like the ‘regular’ householders are fulfilling their own duties.

So how should we live? Should we just be fatalistic and not do anything? All the wise men tell us the exact opposite. Instead of living for ourselves, they suggest we live for others. We can live not as doormats, but as stepping stones, helping others achieve their dreams.

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Pleasantly good

We touched upon the red pill and blue pill in a post titled The Matrix a few weeks ago – link here. This is a concept that has existed for ages in many Indian spiritual texts, notably in the Kathopanishad.

The blue pill denotes that which is pleasant. The red pill denotes that which is good. Is there a difference between pleasant and good? There certainly is.

What is pleasant, is merely a function of what our sense organs perceive. That yummy looking pizza, that smell of freshy baked cream cookies, the sound of a TV advert asking you to spend the next 2 hours on the couch – are all examples of pleasant things. But are these necessarily good as well? Hardly.

In Sanskrit, the pleasant is denoted by the word preyas, while the good is called shreyas. It follows, that many times, to get the good, the path may not be easy or obvious.

Across many parts of the world, as the coronavirus threat seems to be abating somewhat, many people are throwing caution to the wind, and going on holidays and partying with friends (preyas). Needless to say, some of these have resulted in new infections. While 6 or 8 months spent locked down at home has indeed been painful, can we not wait another 2-3 months (shreyas)? Ask anyone who has gone through the ordeal of having to beg for hospital beds for their loved ones, and then maybe we will realize the gravity of the situation.

The Kathopanishad concludes decisively – “The wise one always chooses shreyas.”

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Pulling the punches

Came across the story of a girl called Evie today. At age 11, she was a gymnastics champion. She represented Britain and also participated in the Olympics torch relay in 2012. Sounds nice and dandy?

It was all going well, until one day she fell and dislocated her elbow. While that might seem like a simple enough injury, it led to her being paralyzed for several months. After that, she started suffering from seizures and tics.

Fast forward to today. Her brain is perfectly fine. Her hands and legs are perfectly fine too. But the connection between them? Not so much.

When she’s cooking and using the rolling pin, instead of rolling the dough, she finds her hands suddenly pick the rolling pin and hit her own head. When she’s using her hands for picking something up, she suddenly finds her hands punch her in the face. The impact of these hits is obviously extremely painful. She has a YouTube channel today to raise awareness about her condition, where she describes some of her episodes to be as painful as “a lightning current going through the body”.

While what happened to her is unfortunate and unexpected, what about what is happening to our bodies? We mostly treat it like a dustbin, stuffing in all sorts of garbage and processed food and giving it little to no exercise. We take our bodies for granted, because of how well it has been working thus far and servicing us, day in and day out. What happened to Evie is rare, but that is not reason for us to become complacent and abuse the gift of life that we have each been given. There is no basis for spirituality, goodness, kindness, money, fame, wealth or status if the body is debilitated.

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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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W-L-B

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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Imperfectshunned

Is there anything more beautiful than a smile? Of course there is. A smile with a dimple.

Jokes aside, apparently the dimple is not an epitome of perfection. Rather, it is a flaw, a genetic deformity that causes the irregular growth of a certain facial muscle as the embryo develops.

Wow, so that means we do know to admire imperfections in life! Or are we the type that believes our brother or sister or spouse or parent must go under the knife to ‘get’ a dimple? Apparently this is a big thing – cosmetic surgery and all – go figure!

The world is full of imperfections. But that is what gives each one of us a chance to survive. If everyone was amazingly and equally good at math and finance, I wouldn’t have my job. If everyone was equally talented and looked like Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt or Scarlett Johannson, or directed like Steven Spielberg or Chris Nolan, we would be drowning in monotony.

We all know the adage beauty is only skin deep. But we are still attracted only by the beautiful. Everyone wants a beautiful wife, but not one scarred by an acid attack. Everyone wants a healthy and cute husky puppy – not one that can’t walk or see. What if we were on the receiving end of this partiality?

I remember an interesting company called Hungry Harvest that pitched on Shark Tank. Their premise was nifty. When we go to supermarkets to buy our veggies and fruits, we only pick the good looking ones. The deformed and ‘ugly’ produce never even see the daylight. But companies like these help make use of them. For instance, we drink carrot juice, but never care how the carrot looked. I don’t know anything about their business side of things. But if we all could see beauty in imperfections, the world could be a better place!

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How to remain calm no matter what?

Here is a lovely story I heard recently from my very good childhood friend.

A factory owner once gave a surprise payout to all his employees. Each one of them came up to him, thanked him, praised him and left him with a big smile. Each one, except one. Just one employee, neither thanked him nor praised him. And this got onto the factory owner’s nerves. He just couldn’t understand why this person would not come to thank him.

This kept playing on the owner’s mind over and over. A few months down the line, he announced a cut in salary for this employee. A few days passed, and he was shocked that the employee still never came to him – crying, arguing, or at the very least, demanding an explanation.

Perplexed, the factory owner decided to confront the employee about his unsettling behaviour. The employee said, “Sir, on the day you announced the bonus, my wife gave birth to our son, and I took the bonus as a stroke of luck brought by my child. On the day when you cut my pay, my mother passed away, and I took the pay cut as if she took away what belonged to her. Therefore, I am unaffected by the pay rise or the pay reduction.”

It is said that one of the hardest feats a true yogi can achieve, is to remain equanimous in the face of duality. Especially in the face of life’s opposites – joy versus sorrow, pain versus pleasure etc. Life is full of such extremes – with today’s pain leading to tomorrow’s pleasure which then leads to further pain and the cycle continues forever.

Once we accept and realise that life is cyclical, we will be able to objectively evaluate each situation life places us in – and respond appropriately. Moderation is the key – and if the good doesn’t matter much, the bad won’t either.

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How can we handle criticism?

I recall a scene from when I was much younger, when our apartment was being renovated. Several labourers were involved in the painting, cementing, chipping, tiling, piping and other related activities. One chap in particular, would come late every single day. The supervisor who was overseeing this renovation project, took him to task once and asked him to be on time, as the rest of the work was being held up unnecessarily. I remember as the labourer merely smiled and listened patiently. Later the supervisor told me, all these workers are similar and smart – they just smile and stay silent. No frustration. No anger. No excuses.

Keep in mind, this worker was probably illiterate, and must have had all kinds of problems going on his personal life. Not that his professional life was much to speak of – as the daily wages in India can barely sustain hand to mouth existence. Even so, he had somehow learned to handle criticism beautifully. I’m thinking of the number of times I’ve been pulled up by my teachers or employers or even family members over the years – and can’t think of an instance when I managed to smile and listen patiently through criticism.

For most people, taking feedback or handling criticism is a very difficult process. This is especially true for the ones that are materially more successful, and that too early on in life. A daily wage earner is likely getting a verbal bashing every few hours (if not minutes) of each day – mostly from those barking orders at him. Those who have gone through tough childhoods and tough upbringings, are likely to be tough in their adulthood as well. They understand that life often does not work the way they want it to.

For those of us that have still not forgotten our boss’ or teachers’ or friends’ reprimands or criticisms, often from many years ago, we must toughen up, and let go. Surely those people have forgotten what they said. But these incidents remain imprinted in our memories, as if forever.

One way to let go, is to diversify. Have many activities, many friends, many mentors, many skills, many hobbies. It would be very difficult to annoy/destroy all of these at once. When the mind has many things to keep it busy, it will automatically stop dwelling on select instances from the past, and be less self-focused.

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Overcoming indecisiveness

Should I choose this job or that? Should I work or study? Should I learn to play the violin or the guitar? Should I take 2 weeks off this quarter or next? Should I read this book or that? Should I buy a car or a bike, and if so which brand, make, color and model? Should I buy this dress for the wedding or that? Should I buy a house or rent one? Should I get married now or wait? Should I or shouldn’t I? Should I or shouldn’t I? Should I or shouldn’t I? and on and on and on it goes.

Indecisiveness is everywhere. And we waste enormous amounts of time being indecisive.

However, indecisiveness is not a problem. Indecisiveness is a luxury. This luxury stems from the fact that we even have a choice! Many downtrodden poverty stricken individuals have no choices whatsoever in life. Their next meal would depend on them continuing in their current job, not studying, not having the opportunity to holiday, no time to read, and definitely not buy any personal vehicles.

But luxury aside, we are also indecisive because we are wary of the results of our decisions. And not making a decision is definitely not an answer, because that too is a type of decision.

Each of our actions will have its own consequences. The best part is, that the actions themselves do not matter, much.

Whether I drank lemon tea for breakfast or chamomile is irrelevant. The relevant question to ask is, after gulping down my tea, what did I do the rest of my day? After making the choice of employer, car, college, violin, or marriage, what did I do thereafter? Did I step up and change the world? Did I improve my relationship with my spouse? Did I use my education and career to add value to the lives of those around me?

We are here to make a positive impact to those around us, and we must decide to keep that up. That is the only decision that matters.

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How to see?

The rains are so beautiful. Ah the petrichor. I love it.
Everything is so yucky and mucky. Eeks, so many insects. And the traffic jams.

My job is amazing. I’m contributing to nation building. The products I help build are improving lives.
My pay sucks, my working hours suck, my boss is terrible, my team is terrible.

This studio apartment is amazing. So compact, cosy and homely. And of course – easy to maintain.
What a hole-in-the-wall this is! No place to move around, host my parties or even make one addition to my wardrobe.

The 2 part-time jobs I’m lucky to have, helps me offset my student loan. This degree will enhance my credentials.
Tossing burgers, packing food, filling up fuel tanks. I hate this. Why can’t I be out partying instead?

Circumstance. Everything is awesome.
Same circumstance. Everything sucks.

The world is coloured by the lens through which we see it. We can choose the lens of despair and sorrow. Or we can choose the lens of sparkles and wonder.

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Why bad is good

The goal of human life is to achieve liberation or moksha. This is not some special state where one can toggle the world on or off. Rather it is described as a state where one is ‘always on’ to the Oneness of creation.

If we go to a supermarket after a heavy lunch, we typically only buy what we went in to buy. But if we enter the supermarket ravenous, we will likely fill our trolleys with everything even remotely related to food.

Put a group of seekers into a room, and ask “How many people want moksha this very instant?”, and you will be lucky to see even one hand go up. Such is the power of maya, and such is the strength of our attachment to this world.

The spiritual hunger before entering the satsang, or before meditation or before reading a book on spirituality should mirror the hunger pangs before entering the supermarket. This hunger, this burning desire, will bring about results in a fraction of the time it has taken even many advanced seekers.

When our lives are filled with material successes and goodness (health, wealth, name, fame), we become complacent. The hunger dies down. We become errant, and the human goal stands forgotten. When bad times strike, the pillar of support that spirituality can be, has not been developed enough.

But developed, it still can be. Because the same bad time leads us to search for answers. And in such times, the vigour of the search is far superior. Thus bad becomes good. So let us look at bad times as an opportunity. To learn and to grow.

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No one’s crush

When I opened up my Instagram account today, a video (it was called a ‘reel’) played automatically. It was only a few seconds long. There was a large but stationary truck on a narrow road. Behind that truck, 4-5 cars (sedans and hatchbacks) slowly lined up and stopped. A few seconds later, another truck came up from behind in full speed. Maybe the brakes failed, I don’t know. The truck was moving so fast that it literally *crushed* all the cars in front of it, and finally hit the stalled truck in front. A huge cloud of dust emerged thereafter. And then the video ended.

Ghastly, to say the least.

I don’t know when the video was shot, or where it was taken, or why it showed up on my feed. But suffice it to say, that none of the people in those cars, woke up that morning, thinking it would be their last day, and that they would meet their Creator, after being sandwiched by two trucks. All their dreams and ambitions and hopes and fears – crushed mercilessly.

Scary? Yes certainly. But we must not become defeatists or fatalists. Life is indeed fleeting. In this short period however, are we living our lives – sitting on our backsides and twiddling our thumbs? Or are we constantly working for the betterment of the world? Yes, bad things may happen. But good things may happen too. Let us call the glass half full.

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Purple hues

“That purple streak you’ve got in your hair – it doesn’t suit you.”, said the man. You just let that drop by unnoticed. Why? Because you don’t have a purple streak in your hair. “What a random comment. Nonsense.”, you think to yourself.

“You have a funny nose – it is so pointy.”, said the man. Ooooh, this one stings! You know you have a pointy nose, and have been the butt of many jokes since your childhood. “I hate myself. I look so ugly. Me and my stupid nose.”

We are offered many free unsolicited opinions by all kinds of people. Most people do not care if what they are saying is hurtful, necessary or even factually correct.

Our problems arise not from listening to such people or even having them as friends or colleagues. Rather, our problems come from taking such people seriously and believing that what they say is indeed true. This makes us feel small at best, and devastated and depressed at worst.

The next time someone says something hurtful to us, whether partially true, fully true or fully false, we just need to remember one thing. That our hair is not purple.

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In their thoughts

“Tina! Did you have your breakfast today?”, asked her father. “I’m not a baby dad, can you stop asking me this all the time?”.

“Sam, can you please get that document from my table?”, asked his boss during a client meeting. “I hate doing these menial tasks – why can’t he be more prepared?” thought an agitated Sam.

“Dolly, you need to change your diet. The extra pounds are not looking good”, said her friend, also a fitness coach. “Who is she to tell me about my body? Sure, she is in great shape, but why is she making me feel bad?”

All of the above can benefit from a shift in perspective.

Many people do not have anyone to tell them anything. Their lives tick by in solitude. Even the ones who are in the spotlight sometimes. No wonder then, that there is no dearth of depression and suicide cases.

The next time someone enquires about us (“Did you eat?”) or asks for our help (“Can you please bring that from there?”), let us be extra grateful to them. We are lucky that we are in the thoughts of others, whatever the reason may be.

That in itself is a reason to rejoice.

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