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Category: choice

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 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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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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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 4 of 6

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

  1. The Law of Infection – Emotions are contagious. We are influenced by the moods and ideas of the people we spend time with. We need to be mindful of the company we keep and the ideologies we adopt.
  2. The Law of the Endless ChainEvery action has consequences that extend far beyond the immediate moment. If we understand the chain of cause and effect, we can better predict and control the future.
  3. The Law of Non-EngagementSometimes, the best way to win is not to fight. We can avoid getting emotionally entangled in other people’s problems and conflicts.

    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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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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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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Dumb choice

The story of legendary mountaineer Anker Conrad is incredible. He set out on a daring expedition with his best friends, fully prepared for the challenges they might face, as they climbed Mount Shma. However, fate had a different plan. An unforeseen avalanche struck, forcing Anker to make a split-second decision that would change everything.

What did he do?

He simply decided to dive left as the avalanche hit. His two colleagues dove right. Anker suffered a broken collarbone. Bad for sure, but at least he recovered. His two friends? Their bodies were only retrieved after many years.

His decision to go left was a simple ‘dumb-luck’ call as he himself admits. While not all such decisions may be life or death, many times in our lives, we too make sudden choices, with no knowledge of the future. It is the same for everyone.

When we look at successful people today, we assume they always did everything perfectly. Not true, because everyone has these dumb-choice moments. Best not to read too much into predicting the future by exactly following others paths. No one knows what is coming next. We each simply do our best, that’s it.

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Dealing with change

In a recent satsang, there was a query on how one should deal with change. The 3-step answer given by the speaker was brilliant.

  1. Accept that change will happen. We cannot slow ageing for instance. Or that many circumstances are beyond our control, and will naturally look different and evolve in different ways tomorrow. Not resisting change will solve half the problem.
  2. Dealing with change positively requires a purpose in life. While a professional and personal purpose is good, a spiritual purpose is a game changer and life changer.
  3. Eventually, we will realise, that the true purpose is not to run away from change, but to seek the truly changeless, that is there deep inside each one of us, who we may call God or Consciousness or Brahman etc.

So nice, isn’t it?

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Fallow fellow

We all know what a fallow field is. It’s one where the farmer has let the field be as is for a year. No ploughing, no harvesting, nothing.

Why? Because after years and years of doing nothing but cultivation, the soil needs rest. And the one year of lying fallow provides exactly that, because all the nutrients in the soil get replenished.

This is no different from each one of us giving our bodies and minds some rest. Every second of every waking hour need not be maximized or productive. Too much of anything – either productivity or even leisure – isn’t great, as the Gita itself tells us.

Equanimity and moderation are key. Fallow is not shallow.

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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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All good

When things don’t go well, we want and expect it to get over asap.

But when everything is going great guns in life, we feel we are entitled to our success, and in denial of its temporary nature.

If something goes badly, we may say it’s not our fault.

But would we attribute our success also to something outside our control?

If the source of failure can be outsourced, then why not the same treatment for success?

Both success and failure are nothing but meaningless labels in the cyclicality that is life.

The only thing we control is our own reaction to these external eventualities. If we choose to give up control of that also, then only peace remains.

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Pascal’s wager

This is a cool concept I came across recently. Blaise Pascal, the French philosopher, posed this dilemma.

His wager was that God does in fact exist. Why?

He obviously understood that it is difficult to know for sure if He does or does not exist. Not in the conventional shape and form at least.

Pascal’s thought process was, that if God does indeed exist, then believing in Him, means one would earn His grace.

If God does not actually exist, then such a believer has nothing to lose by being a believer.

On the flip side, for a non-believer, if God exists, such a person would lose out on divine blessings. And the atheist also has little to gain if God does not exist.

This wager is a useful one to take on, not just on the topic of God, but even in our daily lives. It’s better in general to be optimistic about things, believing that the future will be better than today. Pascal would take that wager.

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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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Consistent wordling

We’ve all heard the quote “Consistency bests talent”. This is absolutely true, but usually only when measured in the long run. If one has both talent and consistency, then they become unbeatable!

A simple example I love every morning is the New York Times’ Wordle. If you haven’t tried it yet, you should. It takes just a few minutes to do everyday.

There are different approaches to solving it. Some prefer to guess the words directly, so that they finish within as few tries as possible.

There’s also the more consistent approach, where you can try the same set of words daily, but over time increase the probability of your success. For example, starting with ADIEU, SPORT and LYNCH means you cover the most letters with none of them repeating. This improves your chances of success over time. But it may not be the best to win an individual game. The choice is ours. Consistency? Or short term success?

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An Offer you can’t refuse

For any fan of the movie, the title of this blog post would immediately remind one of The Godfather movie – one of the most iconic ones ever to be made. But making the movie itself was no easy task. Low budgets, a string of prior failures, struggles with casting, involvement of the real-life mafia, you name a problem and it was present.

All of this is captured beautifully in a TV miniseries released recently aptly called The Offer. The producer of the film and the CEO of Paramount at the time had this dialogue exchange:

Charlie (CEO): A word to the wise, Ruddy. When you fail alone, there's no one else to blame.
Ruddy: That's the only way I want it.

Why I find this so beautiful and so profound, is because it represents the struggle each one of us goes through in life daily. Should we just take it easy, and go with the flow? Or should we go against the grain where needed, and really do something pathbreaking?

I suppose it depends on what we want in life. Do we want to make the most of the time we have here in this life? Or just come unknown and go unknown?

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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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Superb heroes

The new superhit movie from India made on a shoestring budget called Kantara is making waves all over the country.

It’s actually not a generic Indian movie but one from a specific part of Karnataka, a state in the country.

Not just any random love story, but one of demigods and people with superpowers. Not beams flying out of their eyes, but powers given to save the citizens of the district, while enabling them to live in harmony with nature.

While this may sound like superstition and mythology to some, there is certainly an element of truth to it. The spiritual energy is tangible to those who are receptive to it. Not just the movie, but more so of the same rituals practised in real life.

But folks have watched this movie, and said it’s nonsense. “These things can never happen. Random magic and superstition and silly ancient rituals”

And yet the same people will watch spandex-clad caped-crusaders shooting webs from their wrists and light from their eyes and gloat in amazement. Go figure.

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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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Les perishables

Chapter 7 of the Gita is an interesting one.

In verse 20-22, the Lord says that spiritual seekers can worship various deities. By following the specific rules related to these deities, they will get what they desire.

Then in verse 23, He mentions the words antavattu phalam. Anta is end and Phal is fruit. Taken together, the words refer to perishable desires.

The Lord is trying to convey only one simple truth here. That we should not be running after material desires. Why? Because they are perishable! Would you want to buy a shiny new sports car that you know would be junk in a year?

The 3 core components of life = vyakti, vastu, paristhithi = people, things and situations – all of these are perishable, and yet our desires only revolve around these.

What should we desire that is permanent then? Spiritual growth to reach the Lord.

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Ravana good or bad?

Was recently watching an interview of a Sri Lankan historian who said that Ravana to her and her people was a hero while Vibheeshana was a traitor. She supported her belief by saying the latter defected only because he felt insulted after being given the smallest and farthest of the 10 local kingdoms.

This would be completely the opposite view of anyone in India who has grown up reading the Ramayana. Ravana was obviously devout and skilled unlike any, but also supposed to have been brought down by his own ego. Vibheeshana however is eulogised for having stood by Dharma.

What to do in such cases where the stories themselves apparently contradict each other?

The answer is to not focus on the story or characters or who was the hero or villain but rather on the underlying message. Follow dharma, banish ego. This is the message of our scriptures, and the same is true of the mythological texts. That will be enough for us to know how to act when we are faced with tough circumstances and choices in life, because ultimately it’s all about our own inner transformation.

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Loud quitting – part 2 of 2

If a doctor has been giving simple cough syrup to cure someone’s cough, but later realizes that this is a deeper lung issue, of course the doc will have to quit giving cough syrup and progress to more potent medication.

If the workplace is really toxic, then what’s the problem in quitting? If there’s a better opportunity available, shouldn’t one take it?

There’s a concept in economics called ‘opportunity cost’ that exactly defines this, and businesses use it all the time. With a limited set of resources, how can you make the optimum use of the opportunity at hand? No matter what happens, if there are multiple opportunities, one or more will have to be sacrificed, and that is the cost of missing out. But it’s fine, we cannot do everything at the same time, all the time.

Quitting isn’t bad. It’s why one quits that matters.

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Loud quitting

There’s a whole “quiet quitting” movement that is going on in the corporate world. Employees don’t actually quit but they are so disillusioned with work, that they quit mentally. So they would not put in the efforts required and do a half hearted job perhaps.

There’s something about quitting in our world that just evokes the deepest of passions.

“How can you quit? Quitting is for losers. Tough people never quit.” Haven’t we all grown up hearing these?

This even exists with the greatest most successful folks. Nobody says they quit. They want to be seen as evolving, not quitting, even if it’s a tennis star keeping down her racquet or a footballer hanging up his boots.

Why is quitting so bad? More tomorrow.

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What the Carlyle Group founder says about adding value…

The 73 year old ultra successful billionaire investor and founder of the Carlyle Group, David Rubenstein, had the following to say when asked about what kind of projects he takes on or spends time on.

  1. Work on starting things that others aren’t able to start.
  2. Work on finishing things that others aren’t able to finish.
  3. Wherever possible, attempt to make tangible progress, rather than something that might or might not happen in a distant future.
  4. Give your time to your projects of choice, in addition to giving your money.

Isn’t this very instructive and insightful on how we each could look to prioritize our own times as well?

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Good loses to bad

Good people finish last right? Except in Hollywood at least. There’s no heroes with capes in real life it may well seem.

But here’s one perspective I came across recently that was pivotal.

It’s not just good versus bad, but also active versus passive.

As Krishna always says in the Gita, there is no room for inaction. This is not different from saying there is no room for being passive.

Doesn’t mean that one must always give up common sense and keep on doing something wasteful just in order to be seen as active.

But when good people are passive, little gets achieved. Contrast that with bad people being active. And therefore the importance of good people being active!

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How to be an awesome learner?

The world is changing fast. Progressing at an amazing pace. And with that, elders, seniors, those with more experience, whatever you may call it, are getting disrupted. Not just technology but people itself. Pretty much everything I studied in college or university many years ago, is all obsolete. Poof. Gone.

How to survive then? Only by learning constantly. There is no other way. And the best way to learn is to look at Arjuna for tips. Learn from the best learner himself.

What are his attributes?

  1. Being a very patient listener, having sat through 18 Gita chapters with Krishna
  2. Ensuring he understands everything correctly, by asking relevant questions, and
  3. Implementing everything he listens to and understands

Simple, but not easy…

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Missed alive

What is more important, work or family life?

That’s a trick question, because both are important, as we well know.

Balancing both is very difficult, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

I came across the story of a celebrated author who was writing his best ever book yet. He was so engrossed in the book, that he forgot everything around him, family included.

He unfortunately passed away while writing the last chapter. His wife said this after his death:

"I do miss Larry, but it's not like he was here even when he was alive"

Is that how we want to be known?

As one of my mentors always says, it’s never work-life balance, but always work-life choice.

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Self discipline

We may know what the right thing to do is, and yet not do it when the time comes.

Elbert Hubbard, the American writer and philosopher who lived in the 1890s had this to say:

Self discipline is the ability to make yourself do what you should do and when you should do it, whether you feel like it or not.

Truer yet harder-to-implement words were perhaps never spoken.

Elbert goes on to say:

There are 999 other success principles I have found in my reading and experience, but without self-discipline, none of them work. And with self-discipline, all of them work!
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Yes means No

You know how we struggle sometimes to say “No”?

Especially when we know deep down, that “No” is indeed the right answer.

It might be to a friend or relative asking for your money, or a boss asking you to work every weekend, or a colleague expecting you to always fill in for their gaps.

We may think that by saying “Yes” to such requests, we are actually doing something good, doing something divinely karmic.

However, it is good to remember that every coin has a flip side. By saying “Yes” to everything, we are actually saying implicit “No”s to ourselves and to our loved ones. How?

Because every extra hour or dollar wasted on someone unnecessary, is an equivalent hour or dollar unavailable for us to spend with ourselves or our loved ones. Not that we should not help others, but thinking this way helps us discriminate between who really needs our help, and who is being parasitic.

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Food over medicines

There was a bit of a medical emergency recently. Not a big scare or anything. But some medicines were needed, and pronto.

There’s so many “10-minute delivery” apps nowadays, that any one of them should have done the trick.

Except that at 4 am, none of them deliver medicines even in 3 hours, let alone 10 minutes.

That is understandable of course. Can’t expect the world to be awake in the wee hours of the morning to make medical deliveries.

Until you open the food apps that is, and realize that you can order burgers and fries and high-sugar fizzy drinks at 4 am for immediate delivery, but not critical medicines.

We collectively as a society seem to have our priorities clear ?

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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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Miraculous – part 1/2

In chapter 8 of the Gita, Lord Krishna mentions the existence of seven hells and seven heavens. Really? What is this? Coming from a logical and scientific background, do such things even make sense?

One satsangi said this topic was a complete ‘bouncer’ for him, and why not!

While some of these things may sound fantastic, and I have no way of either proving or disproving them, my preference has just been to keep an open mind. Nobody really understands everything, and to pooh-pooh something just because I don’t understand it doesn’t seem like the right approach to me.

Take vedic astrology for instance. The most common argument against it is that, “Oh how can some planet situated so many light years away have an impact on me?”. My counter to that is, for the rishis and munis that discovered such sciences many thousands of years ago and had such insanely high acumen that they uncovered many secrets of human life – would these same brilliant sages have just decided to ignore the most obvious “planets are too far away from earth” observation?

Concluded tomorrow!

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How to make the right decision?

You know how we are at a crossroads so many times in our lives? We need to make one decision or another. This job or that. This country or that. This course or that. This institution or that. And so on.

Despite this, we rarely have a clear blueprint of how to go about these decisions. So critical, yet so confusing.

A senior satsangi this past weekend gave a simple yet profound 3-step technique for just this problem:

  1. Pray for the right wisdom.
  2. Ask for guidance from materially successful mentors especially if they are also on the spiritual path, such as a part of the same satsang.
  3. Understand deeply, that the grass is always greener elsewhere. Not that we shouldn’t strive for better – but just that it helps to have realistic expectations.

Decision making conquered!

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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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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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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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Vocal for social

Imagine a chaotic check-in scene at an airport. At least 300 passengers are waiting for their turn to dump their luggages and collect their boarding passes. All in serpentine queues that would put a new iPhone launch line to shame.

There are many that have their flights departing in under an hour, and so the line-cutting begins. It’s chaos. It’s madness. It’s chaotic madness.

And then as one elderly chap begins to raise his voice against the (terribly) understaffed counters, a smart employee in counter 1 asks him to come over so that he could quickly be serviced, and more importantly, silenced.

What would most people do in such a situation? Take the shortcut right? The guy should have quickly taken his family to that counter, cutting ahead of at least a 100 passengers, simply because he raised his voice.

But that’s not what he did. He made his family stay back in line, went to that counter and reprimanded the employee for encouraging such shortcut behavior. He then proceeded to manage the line (and force other cutters to go back in-line) until his family got to the counter, after waiting in line. A role model citizen if there was one!

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VVP – part 2

We looked at Vyakti Vastu Paristhithi yesterday.

Today is another VVP. Something called a Value Validation Project.

I came across this awesome concept online. It’s amazingly helpful if you want to land a new job. It’s also amazing if you want to know if you want that job in the first place.

What does VVP involve? If you are applying for a job as a coder (say), the easiest thing is to click the ‘Apply’ button, ship your CV to the recruitment team, and hope for a response, just like a million other applicants.

But how to stand out? By validating your value, via a project. Use the opportunity to code something now itself for your prospective employer, so they see what you can do for them once you join.

This is not limited to coding of course, but can be used in any field. Value validation is not easy, but worth it. Shreyas over Preyas.

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Fired up

‘Tis the time of The Great Resignation.

Some are leaving the workforce altogether, while others are leaving for better jobs.

The latter often find fatter paychecks elsewhere.

If a person’s salary was 100, and they asked for 120, sometimes they’re let go, only to be replaced by someone with a salary of 150. Isn’t that insane?

As they say, train someone so well that they can leave anytime. But treat them so well that they never want to leave.

Nice saying, but does anyone implement this in real life?

Most retention exercises are purely fire fighting exercises. Running from pillar to post to douse out the flames.

Why not start by not having any fires in the first place?

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Extreme meditation

Chapter 6 of the Gita is all about meditation. Funny then, that verses 16 and 17 would talk about moderation in food. Is there really any sort of connection?

A very deep one in fact.

A spiritual aspirant may think that “we are all Brahman, we are not the body”. And such a person might decide to eat too much or too little, and in general become careless about his/her health.

As we very well know though, if we are sick, then there is little ability to get any work done – whether material or spiritual (including meditation progress or prowess).

That’s why Krishna makes it very clear in this verse, that extremes won’t do. The body is the tool and vehicle provided to us to achieve our spiritual objectives. The mind might like extremes, especially good ones, but the body thrives on moderation.

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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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Pretrust

A friend of mine who runs a very successful start-up said something very nice recently.

It was about tipping.

Most people tip, like at the salon, or a restaurant or such. If the service was great, we may tip more, and if not that great, then we may tip less.

But he was talking about the brilliant effect of tipping before the service even starts.

His thought process was, that the service providers are often expectant of a tip, but unsure of whether they will get one or not. Because not everyone tips. Hence giving the tip upfront puts the receiver at ease.

But no. In a conversation with his own barber, who he tipped beforehand, he got a different reason. The guy told him that it was not about the surety of money, but the surety of trust. The trust placed on the service provider of superlative service, even before the service began. Such a nice way to think about this isn’t it?

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Secret goals

The title of this blog post might have you think that maybe some goals should be kept secret. Or that there might already be some secret goals. Or that all goals are secret. Those who don’t have any goals at all may wonder what all the hoopla is about!

There is evidence that it is best to keep one’s goals (especially the big ones) secret.

An NYU study in 2009 found this. Pretty startling.

A lot of people love to toot their own horns, whether on social media or in real life, and whether for minor achievements, or major goals.

Why does keeping your goals a secret matter? This is what the study found. That telling others about your goals apparently creates an unconscious win – tricking our minds into thinking that we have already accomplished the goal.

An important goal would hence be to keep all future goals a secret. My lips are sealed ??

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Distracted

Ever felt this way before? Unable to concentrate because your phone notifications bar just popped up? What’s that now – oh a new Whatsapp message. You click once, harmlessly, and before you know it, 30 minutes have passed, you having gone from “reading a book” time to watching random reels on Instagram.

A book by Nir Eyal called Indistractable is all about solving this attention problem.

First, the word itself. You know the base in ‘distraction’? It’s ‘action’. And it is the same in ‘traction’ as well! Wow, that never struck me before. Distractions move us away from what we really want. Traction is the opposite.

Avoiding distraction is a skill, it can be learned, and needs to be practised. 3 things to help in this journey as per the book:
1. We never run out of willpower, so keep at it.
2. Reaffirm positively
3. Practice self-compassion

Other stuff: turn off notifications where unnecessary, delete apps that are not needed, use your phone’s ‘do not disturb’ feature etc. The last one I can really vouch for!

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Digitox

A few days ago, it was decided that we should step out for a quick weekend getaway.

Someplace nice. Someplace serene. Someplace where the concrete jungle can be left behind completely.

And so we started looking through the various hotel aggregators. These have so many reviews, and taking them into consideration is always a good idea.

One recurring theme in the reviews in certain properties was the blessing of a digital detox.

What’s that?

Is it that there’s a cocktail of greens that one can down in a gulp and be freed of red eyes from staring into a screen for too long?

Is there something else the property offers that people praise the on-site digital detox so much?

Not in the least. All it means, is that the resort is completely isolated. No cell towers. Zero reception. Zilch.

If that’s what it takes to digitally detox, to spend so much money for it, why not just sit at home and switch off the phone? ?

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Mispriced asset

“I’m a mispriced asset”, is what a friend told me recently. He took up his job because he didn’t have a choice. He wanted to break into a specific market, and because he didn’t have the relevant work experience, he had to take a pay cut.

We know how this story ends right? The guy after 3 years in his ‘compromise’ job, managed to get another offer elsewhere, better pay, and before you know it, it was mispricing no more.

Each of us who is in the corporate world comes across this question often. How much am I worth?

The answer as the experts will tell you, is not your intrinsic value. Rather, what you are worth, is simply what someone is willing to pay you. Aka, the greater fool theory. It’s just like the stock market, or the market for art or collectibles, or cryptos or NFTs today. If someone will pay 10, then why settle for 6?

While this is great in the business world, it doesn’t matter in anything in life outside of economic comparisons. Keep wealth aside, and the equations change. If you pay for your house help’s kids’ education, they will likely shower you with more gratitude than any billionaire could hope to amass.

But even that, is looking outward. Your real value, only you can ascribe. And that too might be quite limiting, and mispriced.

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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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Smoked

An 18 February 1882 newspaper carried an advertisement for cigarettes with the following benefits:

  1. Immediate relief in the worst attack of asthma, hay fever, bronchitis
  2. Daily use results in a complete cure
  3. These cigarettes have been successfully tested and recommended by the medical profession for many years
  4. They are perfectly harmless and can be smoked by ladies, children and the most delicate patients

This was a time when even doctors and nurses were not just smoking themselves, but also encouraging their patients to follow suit.

We may think we have come a long way – evolved. Yes we have, at least when it comes to smoking.

But there are so many things today’s generation has little clue about. Parenting. Food choices. Exercising. Health choices. Professional choices. Lifestyle choices.

Another 100 years, and people from then will look back at us and laugh. All the while going through their own sets of blind follies.

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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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Great falls

Shlokas 36 and 37 of chapter 3 in the Gita are eye-openers.

36 has Arjuna asking Krishna why people sin, despite knowing better. And he’s not asking about normal people. He’s asking about those very close to or even at, the pinnacle of spiritual progress. The jnaana yogis.

A jnaana yogi practitioner truly sees everything as the same – no discrimination. He sees the Atman not just in himself, but also in everyone around him. And he also experientially understands that all of these are no different from paramatma. Even so, our mythology is replete with the greatest of rishis, committing the gravest of mistakes, and falling from glory. So Arjuna wants to know why.

The Lord answers in 37, that this is all only because of our desires. “Desire is a great devourer – a great sinner, this is the enemy.”

My Guru is very clear on this too. It might sound boring. But if you want moksha, then this is the way (channelling my inner Mandalorian!). Not for material objects mind you – so not about praying for promotions and bonuses and topping in exams or begetting progeny, but for moksha alone. He doesn’t advise any maha mudras, or maha mantras, or maha japas, or any kundalini rising, or maha meditations – nothing. The only requirement he says, is to give up desires and attachments – that’s it. Can it get simpler?

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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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Good politics / bad politics

We all know folks who get so disgruntled with office politics and say “I will never drop to that level. I hate all this backbiting.”

For sure, dealing with office politics can be tricky. For a superior, even acknowledging that it exists can be tricky.

But the word ‘politics’ is most likely a misnomer in office situations. Or at least not completely representative of the truth.

For instance, politics is a concern for those who struggle to build and maintain relationships. On the contrary, for those with the increased ability to get along with people, politics is rarely an issue. Is there something wrong with having the increased ability to deal with people? Most work is all about dealing with people only! When most people are running to master Photoshop, Excel, Python, Matlab, Web Development and myriad other skills, the one that probably matters the most is being left out.

From our point of view, we can always try to benefit the maximum number of people with our actions. This will ensure a positive rub off from any ‘politics’. And it goes without saying, that politics of the bad kind, where the focus is one-upmanship at the expense of others, is avoidable. However, there is nothing wrong with asking for a promotion or a raise, as the effort is one’s own, and by the book. Right?

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The happiest animal

In the much acclaimed TV show called Ted Lasso, there’s an amazing scene. Nay there are many many amazing scenes, and dialogues.

In one, a soccer player falls to the ground, is tackled and beaten, and then booed by the rest of the players. Clearly something isn’t right. The player on the ground is dejected. Coach Ted calls him to the side line, and asks him, “Do you know what the happiest animal in the world is?”

“What?!”, exclaims the player in disbelief, little expecting such trivia when there’s so much going on in his head already.

“A goldfish”, comes the answer from coach Ted, “Because it only has a 10 second memory. Be a goldfish.”

Had a bad day today? No problem, be a goldfish.
Had a good day today? Also no problem, be a goldfish.

Only then can we live in the moment.

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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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Tail wagger

People nowadays don’t want to workout without a smart watch. It has to have a calorie counter – so that the exact calories expended are tracked accurately. People also like to have their heart rates reported. SPO2 monitored as well. And GPS enabled of course – how else would the running / walking path be charted?

Even weighing scales send electric impulses at two different frequencies which then measure not just a person’s weight but also report water levels, subcutaneous fat, visceral fat, protein levels, body fat percentage, skeletal muscle etc etc. I learned that this is called bio-impedance.

Technology is certainly super awesome for these things.

But all these gadgets, all this technology… these are merely enablers. They will still not do the workout for us. We still need to wake up, get up and move our bodies. Ultimately, it is our bodies that are the greatest technology ever.

But it has become a classic case of tail wagging the dog. If we exercise, we will be fit, irrespective of whether we wear smart watches or not. Exercise is critical, while the calorie counter is incidental. Technology needs us, not the other way around. We must keep reminding ourselves.

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Baby time

A lot of babies nowadays are raised not by their parents, but by their nannies.

Whether it’s feeding the baby, cleaning the baby, changing diapers, clothing the baby, carrying the baby, burping the baby, talking with the baby – you name it, and it’s done by the nannies.

The rationale is of course sound – couples in nuclear families have to manage the house and their office work. How can they possibly get time to fit a baby in as well?

Nannies get baby duties, while the parents continue to enjoy their favorite pastimes, whether sports, TV shows, movie outings, friend outings, eat outs, music concerts and a variety of other events. “We are still young. If not now, then when?”

Spending time with the baby is most critical during its first few years. If time is an issue, then why have a baby in the first place? As a wise elder in my family remarked, raising children is all about one and only one thing – Sacrifice. The parents would need to sacrifice their lives for the future of their kids. And when done well, when the sacrifice is out of love rather than lack of alternative, it earns the highest blessing.

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Empavert

The world loves extroverts. These people are chatty, gregarious, always have stories to tell, and seem to get along so easily.

Introverts on the other hand, seem to struggle to get along with most, and prefer to be curled up with a book rather than the centre of attention in a pub.

A book called Quiet by Susain Cain explores how introverts are actually very powerful, can think deeply and make massive contributions to the world in their own ways.

But maybe extroverts and introverts as defined by outward behaviour is irrelevant, even though that is what catches the eye. Dig a little deeper, and what may really matter is empathy.

One can make quick and superficial judgements about people looking at how they behave in public (intro or extro). But when someone goes the extra mile, out of the way to do something for someone else, that is the true basis for a sustainable relationship. In this respect, even an introvert could be an extrovert, by thinking about the other person selflessly.

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Endgame

We are always looking for the final result. The rank, the medal, the winner, the outcome, the hero triumphing over the villain, the underdog emerging victorious over the incumbent, we ourselves being ‘chosen’ over others and on and on. The endgame is what keeps us going. Or so we think. In this quest for clarity of the future, we often lose sight of the present. Especially when the present is a long journey and the future is just a blip.

Here’s something I experience often. My role at work requires some amount of selling and marketing. Maybe every role in every workplace does nowadays. We can’t be progressing in our careers without constantly selling something or the other – either our ideas, our work, our plans, or at the very least – ourselves.

Whenever I’m required to sell to a client, the majority of the conversation is about talking about our products and how we can help our clients with those. Of course we listen and ask the right questions and so on, but the meeting has been setup so that the client can understand us, so we would certainly need to be speaking and presenting for much of the time. And only right at the end do some of them confess that they are actually not in the market for a solution like this at all!

Sometimes I think, “Hey, couldn’t you just have told this to me at the start?” And then I realize, that if I’d known at the start, then I probably wouldn’t have been as sincere or as convincing with my pitch.

There’s a close parallel in life in general as well. Many times, we do not have all or even some of the answers we seek. But that is actually a very very good thing. Because this is what helps us take life sincerely. Living it by the second, smelling the roses along the way – rather than focusing solely on endgames.

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Single-tasking

Have you ever seen a job description that asks you to work only on a single task? If you have, then please forward it to me so that I can apply ?.

In this book I’m reading called Beyond the Alphas, the author mentions that the average worker makes between 10,000 and 40,000 decisions – every day!

This is just insane. Apparently we also switch between tasks no less than 300 times a day. For all this talk and requirement for multitasking – is this something that is really even possible? Can I read a book and play a video game, at the very same time? Or can I have a deep conversation with my spouse while also watching TV? That second one I don’t even want to attempt!

Multitasking is only done by computers, that can really run multiple processes in parallel. And when we have computers doing all that work, why should we? Computers don’t get tensed or anxious or stressed, but we certainly do.

That’s why it might be a good idea, to get back to single-tasking, at least on the weekends. To spend 3 hours reading a book, and nothing else. Or an hour of deep conversation, and nothing else. A few hours playing with the kids, and nothing else. Including no phones, tablets or other screens for distraction. Let’s try it out!

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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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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

Here’s a thought on anger management. Many people believe they cannot stop being angry. However, when they scrutinize their own lives, they will realize that in front of their own family at home, they quickly fly off the handle every now and then. However the very same person, in front of his/her boss or an even higher superior – manages to stay calm, gritting and grinding their teeth, often in far worse circumstances than those presented at home.

One argument is that in the workplace, we are paid a salary, and a part of that goes towards handling such bouts of anger. That may be true to some extent. But imagine being put in front of the leader of your district / state / country / someone you respect. Of course you would not lose your temper in front of them – even though there is no payment!

The argument supporting anger-towards-one’s-family goes, “But hey they are my loved ones, and it’s only because I care so much that I get angry with them!” But think about it – if you truly loved them, why would you lose your temper on them? Would we want anyone to lose their temper on us? Also, if a cute little 3 month old baby pees or poops on us, do we lose our temper and beat the child up?

The Gita states definitively that anger comes from unfulfilled desire which in turn springs from attachment. The question is not about whether there is more anger when dealing with loved ones versus less when faced with others. If we can control anger in one case, surely we can control it in the other? The focus of all our scriptures and of spirituality itself, is always us – we ourselves. Of an internal transformation, not by chance, but by deliberate choice.

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Art of Connecting

Just finished reading an interesting book by Susan McGregor called The Lost Art of Connecting. Indeed this is something most people are struggling with today. Not just because we live in a locked-down world, or an online-over-offline world, but also because we’ve become more and more self-obsessed. So much so that we rarely seek the need to go out and connect with people. Even at the dinner table, most family members connect only with their screens.

Susan’s premise is simple, and similar to what my Guru says about where success comes from. “It is the increased ability to deal with people, and studies have shown that 85% of success can be attributed to this ability, with only the balance 15% being technical education.”

The author suggests that every meeting or discussion with the other person, no matter how important to you, must always be approached with one and only one question in mind – “How can I be of help to that person?” Sounds counterintuitive at first. She says that if this question is answered, it will cement the relationship – because now even though you came in to the meeting for your own business requirement, you now leave with a valuable connection – one that transcends something simply transactional and ephemeral.

No doubt, it will take effort to answer this question – we cant just blaze into any meeting and say “Hey CEO, how can I help you” because we may not have much to help them with in the first place. So this will require thought, leaning on other connections, understanding what the other person really needs/wants etc. Listening is unbelievably important of course – and key to figuring out what others want. Good book, and certainly a refreshing way to think about conversations and relationships!

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Always on

Nowadays with work-from-home it feels like work never ends. No matter how early I start, the day always ends late. And no matter how much I try to squeeze in and make my day productive, the speed at which things get added to the to-do list is always greater than the speed at which things get struck off it.

What to do then?

It helps to think of two things.

  1. At the time of World War 2, the British government came up with a motivational poster / slogan which said “Keep Calm and Carry on”. In my day too, all I need to do is reflect on history. So many such days have passed where I thought I either wouldn’t be able to handle it, or that the world would end if I didn’t get my work done on time (because of lack of time ironically!). Neither has happened – to me, or to you.
  2. “Just do it” from Nike. Iconic. We all know it. Here’s what it means – Forget about the result or the assumptions of your boss’ feedback or anything else. Focus on the work alone, and just do it.

That’s it – two points for mental freedom. We just need to keep GUDUSUNGU-ing, and the rest will fall into place. As they say, overnight success comes after years of hard work and practice.

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Don’t take it personally

One of the mental models that helps me a lot is to classify people into one of 3 buckets:

  1. Giver: The selfless one, always giving
  2. Taker: The selfish one, always taking
  3. Matcher: The middle one, bringing giver and taker together

This might seem simplistic. But look around us, and we will find that people invariably fall into one of these 3 types.

The crazy boss who is happy no matter what we do? Working on Friday night isn’t enough, neither is working on Saturday, or even Sunday. And at the end of it all? “So what, this is your job, you’re expected to pull these hours!” That’s a ‘taker’ for you right there! Givers on the other hand, are awesome to work with. They’ve always got your back. And always want to encourage your growth.

This model is not about categorising other people out of spite. Rather, it is to be able to objectively look at the people and situations we find ourselves with. Plainly put, a taker is likely to remain a taker for life. It’s a deeply integrated part of their personality and psyche. Trying to change that, makes no sense. If we are forced to be with such a person, we can mentally reassure ourselves, that this ‘taker’ is not showing some personal hatred against you. Rather, that’s just the kind of person s/he is. On the flip side, we can seek out more givers and matchers than takers – if we have the freedom and flexibility to!

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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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DIRFTI

A consultant was engaged to help overhaul a company’s business operations. After a detailed study, they shared all their observations in 6 volumes of books. The company replied that this was unacceptable and asked them to condense the material. The consultant came back with 3 books, then 1, then half, then 10 pages, then 1 page, and finally just 1 line. And DIRFTI is what they came up with – which refers to Do It Right the First Time Itself.

This is one of my Guru’s favourite-est principles. Don’t want to be late for work? Make sure you don’t throw the car keys on the sofa corner the previous day when you come home. Want to find an important book? Keep it back on the bookshelf after using it. Want to succeed in an exam? Make sure you study every day like the exam is the very next day. Feeling lazy to do something properly? Want to avoid multiple trips to correct a stupid error? Make sure it’s done right the first time itself!

This is so important to my Guru that he has written this in bold on the very first page of the Amazing Empowerment Workshop book. The principle doesn’t suggest that one should never make mistakes. But rather than looking at the outcome, it focuses on the process, ensuring that everything is done optimally, thereby expecting optimal solutions as a result. Not very different from what Lord Krishna says in verse 2.47 – Karmanye Vadhikaraste Ma Phaleshu Kada Chana, meaning one must only worry about one’s effort, and not on the end result.

DIRFTI is great, but it is even more great, when done while no one is watching. This will time and again avoid future pain, and provide immediate relief and happiness.

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Know-it-alls

We think we know what’s best for us and what’s worst for us.

A few years ago, some colleagues along with a very senior leader moved to another firm. It was the most awesome move. Probably excellent pay hikes. Certainly improved designations and functional titles. Wonderful, inspiring stuff. To say people were jealous, would be an understatement. People were even wondering why the senior leader took only certain people with him, and why other “better” candidates were left behind.

Cut to today, that firm has shut down. The team, completely disbanded. What seemed like awesomeness at the time, in a few years has completely unravelled. Certain practices at the firm were questionable, which might even leave a blot on the resumes of those who worked there.

Seems like the tables have turned, and this could be the end of the world? It depends. Karma is an endless cycle of ups and downs. Today’s slap on the face is tomorrow’s opportunity. There is rarely a greater teacher than failure.

We think we know what’s best and worst for us. But we be would best off just going through the motions, enjoying the time in it. Everything else is just a perspective – and often not even our own.

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A tale of two-is-one – part 2

You have been practising meditation for a very long time. Many years in fact.

A guest in your house, one day sees you meditating. He comes up to you and says your posture is not right. Fold your palms this way, touch your fingers like this, and face this specific direction. How does he know you ask? He read it in a book.

You get irritated. And rightly so. Years of live meditation, versus reading from a book – really? Who does he think he is? You decide to give him a piece of your mind.

But you also think about it a bit more. “What am I doing all this meditating for? To control my mind, and my tongue, isn’t it?”

You mull over the learnings here. “The spiritual aspirant always has to face two sides of the coin. One, as a person making the suggestion, I do not know anything about the spiritual level reached by others. So telling anyone to do anything differently or to change their routine is not my place. And two, as the recipient of unsolicited advice, I can only control my reactions and responses. This way I gain mastery over my mind and tongue, and also ensure I do not hurt the other person.”

We can surely listen to advice, and even test it out, but if it is unsuitable, we can choose to ignore it. Why get angry, and mess up the rest of our day?

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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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The right thing

We discussed wax-on wax-off before from the blockbuster 1980s movie The Karate Kid. It was a good lesson on how focusing on a mundane training process would help Daniel LaRusso the protagonist pick up some cool Karate skills and ultimately beat the backside out of his arch nemesis Johnny Lawrence.

But this was in the past. Hollywood would never let a good story get away, would they? They’ve now (last 3-4 years) come up with a TV series Cobra Kai. This has the same Daniel and same Lawrence, only now 40 years later – with each having their own competing karate dojos – and boy does it make for some fun watching!

A very nice scene takes place after one of the kids get beaten up and the sensei wonders what he did wrong. He laments in fact that he taught them everything right, did everything right, no cheap tricks, no cheating even, and despite that they lost.

To which the sensei’s trusted friend replies, “It’s okay buddy, you’re doing great. Just because you did the right thing but didn’t get the result you desired, doesn’t mean you should now start doing wrong things. A good person does the right thing all the time, no matter the outcome!”

What a powerful lesson.

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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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Mediterranean life

We’ve been watching this show off and on called Mediterranean Life, which airs on Discovery Plus.

It looks amazing. Clear blue waters, lush greenery, lovely beaches and just outstanding locations in general.

The show is somewhat like reality TV, where the cameras follow various couples looking for a new home, either to rent or to buy. Its pretty much an advert for some very beautiful Mediterranean countries. These home-seekers are typically people from around the world who are fatigued by their daily schedules, lack of work life balance, a virtual disconnect from nature and so forth.

Everything looks nice and plush and bright as the cameras beautifully capture scenery, cutlery and upholstery. And the young couples get all excited by how big the houses are and such. Most of them link everything back to their children. “Oh my 6-yo son needs to have his own bedroom, own bathroom, own swimming pool, and a large garden to play in.” or “I want my 3-yo and 5-yo kids to have the best – one room each, a sea view from both, one bathroom each, a separate living area for them on the second floor, a room to play and get creative” and what not.

I wonder if splurging so much on kids really empowers them, or makes them struggle later on as they never needed to work for anything? What is more realistic for the big bad world that we experience?

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5/25

Ace investor Warren Buffet’s personal pilot was Mike Flint. The latter once came to Mr. Buffet for some career prioritization advice.

What did he say? “Write down your top 25 goals. Now circle the top 5, and drop all the others.”

This is super advice, especially for someone like me, because I often have lengthy to-do lists, and keep worrying about not being able to achieve those things. More often than not, the pace of new items coming on to the list is much higher than the pace of things coming off it!

Why does the 25/5 rule help? Because it fairly estimates that each individual has certain limitations. Over the long run, it is difficult to achieve more than 3-5 large goals, and hence what goals 6 to 25 are, are not really goals, but more of distractions.

I try to use this even for day to day living, as it helps with minimalism. It could be for the things I need to get done in the next hour. Or in the next day. Or even while grocery shopping. If there’s a list of 25 items I think I need, do I really need all of them? Or can I make do with lesser, and order the rest in the next round? A good test of self-control.

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No means no

Here are some examples of where/why saying ‘no’ or the equivalent, is difficult yet incredibly important.

  1. To turn down a job offer is never easy. Someone has sought you ought, evaluated you, liked you, and requested you to join them. It might even feel liberating – to get out of your current role, where you’ve been battling bosses and co-workers for years. But good and bad bosses and co-workers will be everywhere. Many offers (opportunities) will come your way, but you cannot tell yes to all of them. No will do, even if the person on the other side is very senior / successful.
  2. Leaving on time, if you have another engagement, but you are the only one in your group. Very hard! To get up and leave in the middle. Or even to request to end a Zoom call at the end of the scheduled 1 hour, even though the person on the other side is very senior. Pro tip? If you can wiggle out well, it will demonstrate to the other person how you value everyone’s time and schedule, even though having such a conversation could be difficult.
  3. Parents nowadays rarely say no to their kids. And kids know how to take advantage. Making a big scene, crying in public/crowded/closed places etc. are easy ways to force the parents to give in. But saying no, is a show of strength, as the kid learns that life does not grant every wish.
  4. Maintaining confidentiality / secrets when required is another thing I’ve seen people struggle with – all the more when the person asking is a good friend or a very senior veteran in the industry or even one of your largest clients. “How could I possibly say no?” In fact, its the other way around. If you don’t say no, the other person can safely conclude that you may be loose-lipped about their confidential information as well.
  5. Saying ‘yes’ to family members sometimes seems like a no-brainer. But relationships are complex, and saying yes can be the equivalent of falling down the rabbit hole.

In all the above examples, the ‘no’, conveyed with sensitivity rather than spite – will make all the difference. Yes is good, but in certain situations, ‘no’ is the right answer.

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Bovinity

Stress, anxiety, frustration, irritation. We all go through it.

The biggest challenge is going through life itself. We seem to barely have enough time for work and sleep. Weekends come and go as if a blur.

All of life for everyone around us seems to be nothing more than a rat race. We are constantly running. Towards what? Nobody seems to know. Will the race end? Seemingly never.

The worst part? Even if we win the rat race, we will remain a rat only. Is that what we want? Scurrying and scampering about mindlessly?

One solution – take part in a cow race instead. What? If you haven’t had the chance, then you must see some cows in India. They will be sitting in the middle of a highway sometimes, smaller roads sometimes – but always unbelievably oblivious to the traffic around them. No matter what happens, they do not let the outside world bother them. And because of their gentle disposition as well as their generous nature (sharing their milk for one and all), they are considered not just bovine, but divine as well. May we begin the transformation from rat to cow!

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Money thoughts

A few things to keep in mind about money/wealth/status, which everyone craves so much:

  1. No one cares about your wealth as much as you do. Others don’t admire your possessions. They only imagine themselves having said possessions.
  2. The more money/wealth/status one displays, the more the envy/jealousy/hatred that is likely to build up against them. Some of the richest people in the world live very frugally.
  3. Money and wealth are good, as long as we control them and not the other way around.
  4. Wealth brings freedom, because it can buy time. One can then choose what to do with their time, rather than live by the rules of someone else. This is an end goal for most, rather than a starting point.
  5. Spirituality helps build wealth, as it emphasizes reducing desires and sense pleasures, which in turn reduce expenses. Savings can then be invested. Wealth is the gap between what you have and what you want or spend.
  6. You can only really afford something, if you can buy 2 or 3 or 4 of the that same thing.
  7. It is important to teach your kids to be self sufficient. Giving them big allowances now will allow you to see them happy today, but they will struggle in the future, unable to understand the value of money, and left without survival skills.
  8. What amount of wealth / money you desire is something only you can decide. Comparisons will only hurt.
  9. The happiness from giving is infinitely more than that from getting.

What are your thoughts on money?

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Left shoe

Years ago, Swedish shoe shops were being looted by a shoe-mafia. This gang would hit the stores in the wee hours of the night. Next morning, the shoe shop owners would find something unique. Only the left-shoe of each pair of shoes would be gone. The right-shoe would still be on display, untouched.

This was a huge mystery. The shoe-mafia went untraced for the longest time.

More importantly, the question on everyone’s minds, was what was the gang doing with only the left shoe? Surely you need the right-shoe as well, to make a pair, so that someone could wear it?

The mystery was solved much much later, when they discovered another shoe-mafia in Denmark. This gang would hit shoe stores of the same type, but steal only the right-shoes of each pair! The two gangs worked together, and that completed the puzzle.

In life too, we are running after many left shoes – money, wealth, status, accolades, cars, yachts, houses etc. These are fine by themselves, but can never be complete without the right shoes – health, diet, exercise, love, spirituality, meditation, family-time etc. The choice is in our hands.

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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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Yes or no

FOMO seems to be a relatively new age term. It stands for Fear Of Missing Out. If your neighbour has taken a mortgage for 5% and he tells you that interest rates are really low, you too jump onto the bandwagon and take a mortgage for 5%. This is irrespective of whether you need the mortgage, or whether you really have a clue as to whether rates are low.

FOMO could also kick in when your friend goes to a noisy party, and you go too, even though you hate parties. But you do not want to miss the opportunity of being in the limelight, especially because your friend surely would be. Or FOMO-ing a Beyonce concert and giving up the bragging rights, even though you need to cram for the exam tomorrow.

Some of these may just be silly things. But FOMO is very common nowadays, with social media rife with pictures and statuses of friends or acquaintances who are constantly sharing their lives and experiences (often only selective good parts). Just constantly checking one’s phone for social media updates itself could be a FOMO response.

Anyway, FOMO can come in myriad ways. A little bit of insecurity, and FOMO will come right through the door. What’s the way out then? POMO of course – i.e. Pleasure Of Missing Out! Before saying yes to anything or making up our minds on anything, we can first introspect as to whether we really need to be at that party, or need that extra loan, or new car, or even vacation at that unaffordable resort advertised on social media. This is not a blanket ‘No’. Rather, it is just applying a layer of thought before saying ‘Yes’.

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Deli Belly

The Gita at many times talks of the importance of consuming the right food. Really? A spiritual book talking about food? It was surprising to me too at first.

And then I realized Ayurveda too, is heavily focused on digestion. If the gut / stomach is alright, most problems disappear.

Nowadays, even fitness trainers and nutritionists in gyms say the same thing. Your body is not made in the gym, rather it is made in the kitchen.

Our scriptures of course are not so focused on biceps or abs. But they sure are focused on the organ in the head, and more specifically, the mind. We’ve all felt this before – eat too much and the next few hours are soporific and lethargic. Eat spicy and the mood becomes aggressive. Eat too sweet and that cloying feeling doesn’t let up.

For optimum efficiency, the mind must function at peak performance. And for this, the right inputs to the belly are paramount.

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Hard and smart

When Apple launched the iPhone in 2007, what they did was not to make a better phone. This was a point that was missed out by then market leader Nokia. Hence what Nokia did in response, was to try and further strengthen their Symbian OS, and come up with a better phone. But they were still playing the wrong game. The game was not of phones anymore. It was of making in-pocket computers – i.e. devices which incidentally had the capability to make phone calls as well.

When Amazon had just started out selling books online, the then market leader Barnes & Noble was selling more books in a day though their offline bookstores than Amazon would in a year. But Amazon continued to plough on, tail tucked between the legs, unworried about what others were doing. We know what happened next.

There is limited time, money and energy we possess. The resources are finite, whether for a country, a company or a citizen. What we have in abundance though is mind power, available at our beck and call. Of course hard work is important like Amazon proved – with its grit and determination to come up the curve. Equally important is smart work, as Apple proved, while creating a whole new ecosystem. Samsung too soon followed, nicely taking inspiration from Apple, and being agile enough to change, despite not being first movers, and also saddled with their own legacy of dumbphones.

While these giants are all familiar brands today, they each took several years to get to this stage. Some amount of struggle is indeed good and necessary (ref: praise the struggle(r)). But struggling for the sake of it, in the wrong direction, may have us end up like Nokia.

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Good to Great, or the reverse

When Hanuman went to Lanka to rescue Sita, he laid eyes on Ravana for the first time. He described Ravana as “shining like a thousand suns”. He also remarked, “When it comes to greatness, Ravana might well be ahead. But when it comes to goodness, there is no match for Rama!”

Are good and great mutually exclusive? Not, but it is very difficult to combine both. These might explain the difficulty expressed by Scott Fitzgerald’s framework when he talks of having “Two opposing ideas but still retaining the ability to function”. Why? Because greatness gets to the head. The ego swells so much, that there is little room to think of others. Empathy and goodness are replaced by selfishness and greed.

Watching the superb Netflix series Scam 1992 depicts the protagonist Harshad Mehta going through the same conflict. Starting off humbly, and wanting to provide the best for his family, he gets sucked into the world of stock trading. Success after success fuels his ego to such an extent that no amount of wealth and fame is enough. Goodness gets thrown out the window, as fraud after fraud is committed in the quest for greatness.

We must strive for good. Whether great comes or not is irrelevant.

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LMGBTY

No this acronym is not about partner orientation.

These 6 words make up the most under used and under appreciated phrase in the English language.

“Let me get back to you.”

Oh the number of times I have made terrible decisions simply because I thought I had to give an answer right away. Almost never do we actually need to answer on the spot, apart from maybe a job interview. And then too, we can always take time to think about the ‘longer-term’ questions, such as on salary, benefits, relocation, change of role etc. Because rarely in life is anything so pressingly important.

Here are a few examples. When the husband gets an invite to a party he knows his wife doesn’t like – but he still impulsively says yes. When the boss asks you to finish a project over the weekend, and this weekend is for taking the kids out, but you still impulsively say ‘yes’. When the recruiter asks if you can join immediately, and you know you have a non-negotiable notice period, but still say ‘yes’. The answers to these questions may be driven by impulse, or even by fear – as though taking the time to think will lead to something disastrous – like losing a friend or a job. If it comes to that, it’s probably not the right job or friendship in the first place. On the flip side, our decision making is likely to improve significantly if we take the time to think a little about our decisions.

“LMGBTY please” may also serves as a good replacement for “I don’t know” as it may make us seem less dumb! We (and me for sure) could benefit from using it more often.

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More life more living

If someone was born in 1914, there was only a 1% chance that he/she would survive till the age of 100.

Thanks to medical advancements including the eradication of many deadly diseases, there is now a 50% probability that a child born today lives to a 100. In Japan, this number is 109 years.

Is this good? Indeed, it is wonderful news. But what matters is not the age itself, but the quality of the life we live.

Would we rather die 70 happy and carefree, or 100 stressed and depressed?

We are presented with many choices. The work we do (and the consequent stress we take on), the food we eat, the health we neglect, the exercise we strive to be regular with, the sabbaticals we take (yes, refuelling is a good idea – otherwise we are all just rats in a rat race!), the spiritual practices we so wish we could do, among many others.

The choices we make today, will go a long way towards improving our lives.

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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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What to look for in a partner

Ask some youngsters how they would choose their life partners. “My girlfriend / boyfriend / fiancé / fiancée and I love the same movies / books / TV shows / music / food.” i.e. the answers tend to revolve around interests and hobbies.

Such match making could be disastrous.

Why? Because likes, interests and hobbies (can) change. The songs, movies and books we liked 10 years ago, 5 years ago and 2 years ago are not the same anymore. And 5 years down the line, not only will our tastes change, but our partner’s tastes will change as well.

Instead of trying to match likes and dislikes, what is most critical to match is values and value systems. If I’m soft spoken, value humility and honesty and have a charitable bent of mind, it is very difficult to get along with a spouse who is loud, boastful, cuts corners and is miserly. And liking the same type of action adventure movies is not a panacea for this wide gulf of a difference.

This is where some virtues of arranged marriages (advice from family/elders) and the use of astrology (to identify deep-seated character traits of an individual) can help. Not as tools to force people to marry against their will, as is commonly portrayed. But as a mechanism to ensure the ‘core’ wavelength matches, because the rest is just fluff.

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Wonderland to wasteland

We’ve seen previously how one of the definitions of Dharma is ‘the stabilization force’ or ‘balancing factor’. This weekend, I watched a documentary featuring none other than Sir David Attenborough, the 93-year-young foremost nature conservancy expert in the world. Freshly released on Netflix, the film is titled A Life on Our Planet. And boy was it an eye opener. The scenes are a mix of joy (unimaginable biodiversity), tragedy (this biodiversity is dying, or rather we humans are killing it), and hope (of restoring this balance).

Here are a few painful and mind numbingly hard-hitting facts recounted in this documentary:

  1. We cut down over 15 billion trees a year.
  2. In all, we have cut 3 trillion trees. This is half of all the trees on the planet.
  3. 90% of all large fish in the sea are gone, due to overfishing.
  4. As a consequence, a significant part of the marine ecosystem is dead.
  5. This has impacted the oceans ability to absorb carbon dioxide, which has led to warmer climates, and erratic seasons.
  6. In each of the past 5 mega extinctions, it took volcanic eruptions 1 million years to increase the temperature. Thanks to our industrialization, we have increased the temperature in under just 200 years.
  7. Of all the mammals on earth, all humans together weigh 56%. The food humans eat (cattle reared for meat etc.) makes up 40%. Just 4% – are all the other mammals put together – from mouse to blue whale.

Mother Earth has given us everything for free. But if we do not know how to receive graciously, She will not hesitate to rebalance the power. We must do our very best – living mindfully, both collectively and individually, in order to save the planet and ourselves. Otherwise, an unmitigated disaster is on hand.

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Can we see God?

If we ask a cat how God would look, he would say God would be the most majestic cat ever, with the most amazing stripes, silken whiskers and soft paws par excellence.

An octopus would disagree. Because her version of God would be the octopus with the most bulbous head, strong flexible tentacles, and the camouflage capabilities that would put a chameleon to shame.

Likewise an elephant would say a grand majestic granite-grey twin-tusker elephant would be God, whilst an ant would say God is the most beautiful Queen of all Queen ants.

When everyone has their own version of God, it is no surprise that the Lord Himself in the Gita says very clearly, that no one isolated entity is God. Instead, every nook and cranny of all Creation is a reflection of God, if not God Itself.

Let’s say we wish to buy a specific type of car, a Tesla perhaps. For the next few days, weeks and months, we will suddenly begin to spot so many Teslas on the road. If one has just been blessed with a baby, they will suddenly spot only babies everywhere. Not that there were any fewer Teslas or babies before, but just that the seeker’s focus has become sharper and pointed. Looking for God is no different. He is everywhere. If we look at everything as a Divine Creation, we will see Him everywhere, because truth be told, there is nothing else.

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Kid vs Wild

Bear Grylls (from Man vs Wild, the amazing TV show) recently did a special episode with Indian actor Akshay Kumar. It was probably not as wild as his other episodes, but he did make AK drink fresh elephant-dung-tea. So full points for that.

The heart to heart conversations between the two were nice. AK spoke of his humble beginnings – serving as a waiter in Thailand, and simultaneously learning martial arts, and then getting a break in modelling and thereafter in acting. He also stressed upon the need to be good parents. To never build in his children a sense of entitlement, them having been born with a silver spoon.

This is an important point. Most parents today pamper their kids no end. It is not uncommon to witness 5 year olds in posh neighbourhoods throw tantrums while getting picked up from school by the household’s second car (Hyundai) because it is not as good as their first car (Mercedes). Parents too think “Oh my sweet little baby. Let him/her have all the best luxuries in life, because I struggled so much to become successful.” And then when the kids grow up and don’t listen to their parents or talk back, the parents are distraught. What else were they expecting? Success doesn’t come easy. If it does, then it is highly unlikely to be valued, and hence sustain.

The ancient Indian advice on raising kids is amazing. “From their birth to age 4, treat your kids like Gods. From 5 to 15, treat them like servants. From 16 onwards, treat them like your best friends.” The word ‘servant’ is one some may take offence to. But the world is a harsh place, and doesn’t care what one’s upbringing has been like. Getting kids to work their backsides off ensures they not only understand the importance of working hard, but are also physically attuned to putting in their blood, sweat and tears whenever required. Kids must be readied for survival, otherwise they are only being plumped up for sacrifice.

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This is all you need for pink health

My Ayurveda doctor says I need to consistently follow just 4 rules if I never want to take another medicine again.

  1. Sleep by 9.30 pm.
  2. Eat only when extremely hungry and not a minute before.
  3. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables.
  4. Do not consume milk, even in tea or coffee.

That’s it!

Is this too easy to follow? Or too difficult?

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So phishy!

Phishing. We’ve all heard of this. The email scams that attempt to impersonate legitimate businesses and steal our credit card, bank account and other payment information. The cover emails look harmless, but they play on our emotions, and need us to act immediately. This link says that a staggering US$ 12bn has been stolen due to phishing scams in the US over the last five years alone. So the global amount is likely to be many many multiples of that!

Funnily enough, we also get phished in normal day to day life – nothing to do with bank accounts or the internet. Here are some typical conversations.

“Hey, did you see my new car? Brand new model, collector’s edition, turbo-charged, 0-100 in 3 seconds. A true beast!”
“Hey, here’s my new iPhone [X][Maxx][Retina][Pro], with [10] in-built cameras. This is tech from the future!”
“Hey, check out my new microwave oven. It’s got IoT connectivity, auto-menu and gourmet wave modes. State of the art!”

What’s the connection to phishing you ask? Instead of giving up our bank accounts, when we are on the receiving end of such conversations, we quickly and voluntarily give up our peace of mind instead.

Cybersecurity experts warn against becoming emotionally involved while reading phishing emails. This would be good advice in general too. Not everyone can own the latest car or purse or gadget. Most importantly, not everyone needs to either. It helps to ask, “Are we the owner, or the owned?”

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Ready, get set, gekko!

Yesterday night, a big fat lizard (okay a little exaggeration here I admit) appeared suddenly from behind the wall clock. A few shrieks and screams from the householders later, we ran to open the window, and tried to shoo him out. The end game was clear. Armed with a broom, a stick, and a strict non-violence policy, we had to keep tapping on the walls and direct him to the opening. Every few seconds, when he was so close to getting out, he would turn last minute and scurry back into the room in another direction. After 10 minutes of stick tapping, furniture moving and light toggling, he finally scrambled out. Phew. Peace. We could now sleep at ease. No worry of a lizard falling down on our faces while asleep.

But this was just one lizard. Who knows if there are any others hidden in the darkness?

The episode couldn’t stop me from thinking about the similarities to life. When a problem hits us, we tend to focus all our energies on it. We run behind it like the rest of the world has stopped. We may forget that we have a room or even a house full of space, with wonderful people and things (and one tiny lizard). If we are unable to drive the problem away, then we keep worrying about it, often unable to sleep. Even when the problem is gone, we wonder if there might be other problems lurking nearby.

The gecko is quite common in India. Ask any villager how to tackle them, and they will tell you that they don’t even think twice about the reptile. The lizards help control the insect population, always just mind their own business, and often leave mysteriously (through some orifice) at sunlight, the same mysterious way they made their way in, in the first place.

The villagers’ behaviour is no different from that of a realized soul when it comes to tackling problems in life. They exist, they are acknowledged and then they are wilfully forgotten, because the focus has already shifted back to the good.

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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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In and out

Our outside is full of:
– people with opposing views
– fights and clashes
– one upmanship
– selfishness and nepotism
– poverty and inequality

Our inside is full of:
– hopes and fears
– greed and desires
– anxiety and stress
– lack of awareness
– anger and regret

What can we control? The outside, or the inside?

What should we work on improving?

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Weekend choices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Focus Pocus

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Do desires beget more desires?

Picture your favourite dessert. Thanks to the lockdowns everywhere, you have not been able to visit the restaurant that serves it. This is playing on your mind for a few weeks. Finally the restaurant opens up one day, and you order it on Uber Eats / Zomato / Swiggy / GrubHub. You polish off the delicacy in no time. Wow, wasn’t that long wait just so worth it?!

Given the relatively small serving size, you immediately feel like having another one. “Not today, but tomorrow surely”, you tell yourself. And then you proceed to keep thinking about the sweet dish sporadically during the rest of the day.

This is normal. We all have cravings, and the cravings may be satisfied – temporarily – but they certainly come back in the future. So desires do beget desires. But these desires only lead to unhappiness eventually (remember The Happiness Equation?). What can we do about this?

Ask anyone who’s had some Biryani to explain the dish to a vegetarian friend. “Biryani and vegetarian? Wait, does that combo even exist? How can you have biryani without chicken or meat balls?” But you ask the same thing to a pure vegetarian and they will tell you that there is nothing tastier than Paneer Biryani. And chicken biryani? “I’m a pure vegetarian, I’ve never eaten meat or fowl, and I can never think of harming another living being.”, pat comes the reply! What vegetarians lack in choice, enables their control on desire, at least for chicken biryani. But dessert may well be a weakness.

Out of sight, out of mind is a good way to keep a check. For instance, Domino’s Pizza stopped delivering to our place a year ago – as they can’t logistically honour their promise of ’30 minutes or free’. The family hasn’t had Domino’s since!

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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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Simplification

One of the highest rated zombie TV shows on IMDB is The Walking Dead. A lot of my friends rave on and on about it.

I haven’t watched it yet. Perhaps I do not need to. Because I see so many zombies around me every day. Sometimes I’m a zombie too.

There is no dearth of people with dark circles, worry lines on their foreheads and frowns hidden by make-up. They exhibit a solemn sense of hurry and anxiety – with nowhere to go in particular or nothing to do.

Life beckons to them to achieve more and more and more, or so they tell themselves, shifting some of the blame onto their employers. “You don’t understand. It’s like this only. The rules cannot be changed.”, said one person after giving 10 years of his life to one company.

These affluent zombies amass money, name, fame, status and what not. But almost entirely on other people’s terms, justifying their actions based on social comparisons, and rarely finding the time to truly feel alive. “How I wish I could simplify my life”, is a common regret, as if it were a fading dream.

Here’s the truth though. We do not need 2 cars. We do not need 3 houses. We do not need to show off our wealth. We do not need to show off our abilities and fan following. The more we have and show publicly, the more we are pushed to preserve. Given we will all be gone in the next 100 years, does mindless preservation even make sense?

Simplification is simple. But only we can choose to simplify. Let the zombies remain on TV.

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The number and the excuse

There is a constant feeling of despair amongst today’s youth. Quick success is on everyone’s minds. Fear of failure looms large. It is as though life is already over. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Srila Prabhupad, the world-renowned founder of ISKCON, got on a cargo boat from India to America, as the lone passenger. He suffered two heart attacks en-route. He had only 7 US$ worth of Indian rupees, and not one friend or acquaintance in a completely new country. Did I mention he was 69 years old?!

Colonel Sanders founded KFC at 65, after he got his first social security paycheck of just 99$ and decided he had to change his life. Nelson Mandela became President of South Africa at age 75. Noah Webster completed his English dictionary at the age of 66. Teiichi Igarashi climbed Mt. Fuji when he touched 100. Instagram today routinely has videos and photos of septuagenarians and octogenarians having enviably fit bodies, doing yoga poses a 20-year old would struggle to do.

These are just a few examples. Go ahead and google. You’ll find 1000s and 1000s of others.

Age is only a number at best, and an excuse at worst. And nobody likes excuses.

Life is over only when we think it is. And that can be today, or at 100. Let us choose well.

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Smash, I mean trash that snooze button!

Waking up early is awesome.

So say successful CEOs, entrepreneurs and everyone in between. There’s plenty of books that advocate this too.

Personally, I love the rush from getting up early. The extra undisturbed hours to do productive work more efficiently, whether you use it for exercise or meditation or studying (or all of these combined!) – is just too good to miss out on.

But practising it regularly? Phew, easier said than done!

For one, with the recommended 7 to 8 hours of sleep, one would have to hit the sack at around 9.30 am. “Say what?! But that’s when I start cooking my dinner!”…said a lot of earthlings.

Well it’s time to change up a few things. We could start off, by sleeping and waking up 5 or 10 minutes earlier than our usual time every day. And a week later, 5 to 10 minutes before that. And so on till our desired target is hit.

How about the mental power needed to withstand this change? One pro tip from India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi – he doesn’t allow his mind to get in the way at all. At 5 am, irrespective of which timezone he is in, he just bounces off the bed, giving no chance whatsoever for his mind to coax him back to sleep “for just a few more minutes pretty pleaaassseee”

Also, we think changing our sleep schedule is difficult. But we are actually masters at it, having each done it time and again, when travelling abroad, and across many timezones too. Let us think of this as a one-time travel to a timezone that is x hour(s) ahead! (x = current waking time minus 5 am).

Do share your thoughts, tips and experiences in the comments section below!

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Wooden gold

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

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

No prizes for guessing. Everybody picked Mr. Perfect.

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

What do you think everyone picked?

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

Is that how we want to be known?

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Tipping point

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

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

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

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

Which do you prefer?

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

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

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

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B-C-D

Life is short. But it can also be too long. Especially at a crossroads, when discrminative (good versus bad?) ability becomes hazy. The mental agony can be excruciating.

Is this right? Or is that? Should I choose this job? Or that? This college? Or that? Arranged marriage? Or love marriage? The paths are myriad.

In life, we are handed the B and the D. The Birth and the Death. In between is the C, for the Choices we make. There is free will.

But there is no right or wrong Choice. And each Choice heralds its own Consequences. We must learn to live with them. Choose well.

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