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Category: freedom

Thinking about thinking – part 2 of 2

Now that we understand no one really is thinking about us, how can we use this to improve our lives? Easy. By ‘letting go’. By being sincere, but not serious. By taking things with a smile, but not lightly. Read this:

When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.
When I let go of what I have, I receive what I need.

—Lao Tzu

Isn’t this just phenomenal advice? For instance, we might feel tensed and anxious before an important meeting. We are already well prepared and know the outcome. But still, there are those butterflies – “what if it doesn’t go well?” And once the meeting is over? Almost instantly we feel better, no matter the outcome.

That’s why letting go is so important. Letting go of our need to be perfect in everything – looks, speech, writing, presentation, cooking, and everything else.

But letting go doesn’t mean we don’t care. Letting go only means “okay if it happens, and okay if it doesn’t”. Once we ‘let go’, we stop focusing on the future, and how others may or may not perceive us (and we know most people don’t have the time to care!). Instead, we begin to enjoy and live in the present.

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To do…

To do lists are awesome. They really help me get my work done, and ensure that I don’t miss anything critical.

So to do lists are great, and we’ve established that.

But you know the problem with to do lists? They are never ending. My to do lists just keep getting longer and longer. And this builds up a lot of stress and anxiety.

Therefore, here’s another kind of useful list… The ‘to-don’t’ list!

Many times, what I’m unable to do or accomplish is a direct outcome of other things I should be giving up. Like?

Here’s some to-don’ts for me. Don’t check your emails for at least an hour (did you know we check our emails on average 80 times a day?!). Don’t procrastinate. Don’t worry about the future. Don’t focus on the result. Don’t think about missing one day of your 7-days-a-week workout. Don’t worry about one cheat meal. And so it goes.

Even a short but effective to-don’t list can make a to do list really effective!

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Predictive analytics

Put a picture of a snake and mention the words ‘kaala sarpa dosha’, and this is modus operandi 101 for many pseudo astrologers to make a quick buck. Much of this deep rooted fear is unwarranted, as many of the leading vedic astrologers concur that there is nary a reference to this dosha in tradition and ancient texts.

But oh that fear… what to do? What will happen to me? Many of us are living our lives in constant fear of something that may in all probability not even happen.

It is common in India to go to an astrologer and hope to identify how the future would pan out. This makes sense to an extent, if the native is a new born baby. The chart would indeed be highly indicative.

However for someone who is say 40 years old, does the birth chart have significance? Yes it does to some extent, but the birth chart can only predict life based on, you guessed it, the birth!

But since then, 40 years have passed. Prarabhdha karma is as of the birth time, not beyond. So much of free will, in all these 40 years, could potentially have completely transformed the life of the person… of any of us really! But if we choose to remain rooted to what the birth chart indicates, and surrender to our so-called fate and the subsequently induced fear, then how will our true potential come to the fore?

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Detaching from the world

This is a recurrent theme in the Gita. Lord Krishna tells Arjuna to remain detached from the material world, but to also continue doing his duty to the best of his ability. We know from personal experience that this is easier said than done.

For instance, I would be okay giving my heart and soul into my office work, but that’s also because I’m attached to the results. If I was to be given a zero salary, zero bonus, zero increment and no promotion, would I be able to work as hard? That is probably the real test of my detachment. Ironically, if I can work this way, then all the salary and bonus and promotions will likely find its way to me automatically!

One lovely example of detachment as explained by Sri Ramakrishna is that of a baby’s nanny. The nanny knows very well that the child is not hers. Yet she lovingly takes care of the baby for many years and gives it unending love and care, probably more than it’s mother, who is caught up in the vagaries of her professional life. The nanny may even have her own little children who she is unable to be with. But that does not come in the way of her work.

Even so, the nanny knows very well that the baby is not hers, and that any day her mistress may ask her to pack up and leave. Thus there is constant mental detachment, while physcially she takes care of the baby as her own.

Can I mirror this in my office work? For anything around us where we believe we are getting too attached, we can remind ourselves that we are merely caretakers (like the nanny), and not owners. Because the real owner is the One who created us all.

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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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Lights out

Today morning, the electricity went off. Poof, kaput, gone. Some maintenance work yada yada will be back in 12 hours yada yada said one whatsapp message.

I quickly switched from wifi to mobile hotspot and continued to work. A couple of video calls, and a few other normal calls, plenty of emails, several powerpoint slides, some excel sheets and a few more emails later, my laptop battery started to give way.

A few hours later, and my phone was dying too. Dusk had set in. Darkness all around, except my phone screen. And then that was gone as well. No this is not a horror story.

No screens, no calls from work, no deadlines, no TV, no music, no noises, only darkness. But it was beautiful. We sat together and talked – with zero distractions. It was free flowing, and chilled out. Not a care in that moment. Such simple pleasures of life. Going with the flow.

And the lights momentarily came on as the fan whirred back to life. Deadlines, phone calls, work, screens, distractions – everything was back. Back to normal. But our normal is quite abnormal, isn’t it?

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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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Quattro-manageria

According to Harvard Business Review, there are 4 types of Managers. These are Teacher, Cheerleader, Always-on and Connector.

Without knowing anything about these except their names, I’d have thought either the cheerleader or the teacher would be the best. Why? Because the cheerleader manager probably cheers you on, encourages you and appreciates your work. Great way to be motivated and move ahead don’t you think? While the teacher manager might be there to teach you whatever you need to know, and help in your learning process.

The definition of an always-on manager is one who available at any time for questions, feedback or even to just listen. But apparently it’s the connector manager who is the best of all the four.

The connector manager helps by making the most of his/her network – whether with another team member, partner, customer, friend etc. in order to expand the spectrum of teachers you have at your disposal. This is because such a manager realizes it’s impossible for one person to know everything.

The outcome? Apparently connector managers build the strongest, most effective teams, tripling the likelihood that direct reports will be high performers and boost employee engagement by 40%. Pretty impressive!

My takeaway is to try and live the life of a connector-manager for the benefit of everyone around me – irrespective of whether I manage a team at work or not. What do you think? How will you implement this? All suggestions welcome.

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Hanging by a…

We al know about the story where one rock climber, in the pitch dark, is super tired and somehow tries to make his way down from the summit. He loses his harness and rope and what not and is hanging on – by a thread literally – for dear life. He prays to God to save him, and momentarily a heavenly voice booms from the skies, “Let go, and you will be fine.” He doesn’t trust the voice of course, and clings on, but by morning he is finished. When others find him, they realize he was dangling just a few feet away from the ground, but he couldn’t see it due to the darkness.

This is a story about the importance of faith. We know this, and its a great lesson.

There are some mountain climbers – and then there are some other mountain climbers who climb vertical rock faces. Like 3000-foot vertical cliffs. Where do they sleep or take a break? By using something called a portaledge. Which is a device apparently made from airline-quality materials, and hangs thousands of feet above the air perpendicular to the rock face. Fancy sleeping in one? Maybe rolling over the side of the bed would take new meaning here.

It is said these are absolutely safe though. And there are so many climbers who get a kick out of exactly this. Personally, this is not for me. Why would anyone do it? I read up a bit, and apparently its because climbers find it relaxing – being secluded up top and the spectacular views of the night sky and surroundings.

Too much effort / faith for this much relaxation?

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Hair scare

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

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

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

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

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Twit quot 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fear to become

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

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

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

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

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

I get goose bumps each time I read this.

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Take more stress

The things we are stressed about:

  1. landing a better job
  2. earning more money
  3. finding a good spouse / partner
  4. having a good family
  5. going on a quality vacation
  6. being recognized in society
  7. working to fulfil our kids desires, even if they don’t reciprocate

Nothing wrong with these. Except that we usually spend our entire life, nay lives, trying to fix these.

The only thing the Guru asks us to stress about? Getting moksha or liberation. To keep that as a single pointed focus. And to act with urgency. Why? Because moksha is only possible with human life. And we are supremely lucky to have received a human birth, and that too one conducive to spirituality. Who knows if we will get this chance the next time around?

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Wake up

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

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

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

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

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

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By the second

On social media, there seem to be an increase in ‘social’ advertisements. Many pubs and bars seem to have opened up, having being closed many months due to the pandemic. People have been thronging them. Many such establishments have apparently been flouting government norms too – admitting more people and operating longer hours than they should.

While on one side of the world, the devastating coronavirus rages on, on the other side, said nightclubs are teeming with people. Photos show groups of intoxicated half-clothed youngsters, huddled close together, oblivious to the blaring music, high on drink and low on perception.

Sure, the business owners need to run their shops, and this may be a means of advertisement. And of course everyone is free to do as they choose – get high, and leave them problems of the world behind.

But I can’t help but wonder – if there hasn’t been a lifestyle shift. Most of the middle class folks spend everything they earn, just to keep up their ‘image’. Not only are more and more people living paycheck to paycheck, they are also living weekend to weekend. Despising everything related to ‘work’ and ‘office’ on weekdays, all Mon-Fri waking hours are spent waiting for Sat-Sun. And when these do come, they disappear in a flash, feeling like a haze, left in a daze.

What if we lived – not weekend to weekend – but second to second. Giving our fullest to every moment. Enjoying the now. Embracing it. With no care of the past that was or a future to come. How infinitely more productive and yet relaxed, would we be?

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Carma

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

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

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

Little did he know the thoughts running in the valet’s mind. “Oh these rich folks – such show-offs. And having to drive their cars? Back and forth, back and forth, from the reception area to the parking lot, a 100 times a day. Can there be anything more repetitive and boring? With the money I make, I barely make ends meet. My school going son would love it so much if I could own even just a simple car. Even an old dilapidated Hyundai i10 would be perfect.”

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Spiritual Fiction. Or reality?

Christopher Nolan is perhaps one of the greatest Hollywood directors of all time. Partly because his films are so awesome, and partly because his ideas and concepts are so complex that most audiences do not understand a thing – yours truly included. I almost feel foolish watching his movies but I still love them. There was some tesseract in Interstellar, which I just could not fathom. The ending of Inception – a spinning top cliff-hanger – again I could not make head or tail of. Memento was just unbelievable, and then an Indian version called Ghajini was made – which just paled in comparison.

Spielberg is a little easier – like his Avatar movie was way more palatable. Titanic of course was not sci-fi.

Spirituality too can have plenty of sci-fi elements. If one were to read books like Yoga Vashishtam, the Aghora series or Apprenticed to a Himalayan Master or even books on Kundalini shakti etc. (all of which are outstanding books), there would be no dearth of apparent science fiction.

While these are great to read, and also lead me to hope that one day I may experience even a fragment of the True Oneness, my Guru is clinical in his advice. He says only 2 things are needed. Give up desires. Give up attachments. These two are the beejas (seeds) for everything else. The only permanent way to exit from our delusionary state is by realizing the futility of all our worldly pursuits. There is no other way.

Nolan himself has the last say in his most recent movie Tenet, “Don’t try to understand it. Feel it.”

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