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Category: happiness

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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Securing the crown – part 4

There’s an amazing episode surrounding the moon landing of 1969. His Royal Highness Prince Phillip the Duke of Edinburg was lost in his life – directionless as it were. The outside world it seemed was doing great things, making great strides – while all he did, was go from place to place – making speech after speech, which no one could care less about.

Just as the moon landing caught the world’s imagination at the time, so too it did of Prince Phillip. He not only watched and read countless times the footage and reports of the astronauts and their mission, but he also sought out a 15 minute audience with Neil Armstrong and his two co-pilots. His quest – to understand how they truly felt, as they carried out what was probably the most ambitious and significant journey in human history.

On meeting the 3 young men, he is filled with awe, and eagerly asks them about what their thoughts were as they descended on the surface of the moon, and how they felt when they looked at their blue home 380,000 km away. Their response?

They were just process driven. Men on a mission. Hundreds of checklists to ensure everything was working to perfection. No time to smell the proverbial roses, or maybe moon dust. No time to think even. They don’t even begin to understand the essence of the Prince’s questions. They in fact counter-question him thus, “Sir you are so lucky, how does it feel to live in a palace of a 1000 rooms, live with the queen, have so many royal dinners and meetings, and live such a meaningful life?”

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Securing the crown – part 2

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

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

And what a lovely line it is.

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

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

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

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Securing the crown

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

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

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

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

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

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Score backwards

Think of everything you already have in your life. EVERYTHING.

What would you value it at?

Of course you’ve read this blog and many scriptures and the like, so the answer would be 100… out of 10. Well done!

Now think of everything you don’t have, but want.

That promotion, that net worth, that designation, that house, that car, that international vacation, that recognition from others…

What would you value it at? 1,000? 10,000? Maybe more? Isn’t that what we spend our entire days and nights working towards / stressing for?

So everything we have is 100, and everything we want is 10,000. Surely we’ve got this backwards? Why else would anything we obtain incrementally, not add to lasting happiness? Why are we still unhappy? To be pondered over…

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Sightful

Here’s an awesome story narrated by Morgan Housel who writes for the Collaborative Fund blog.

Dr. Dan Goodman once performed surgery on a middle-aged woman whose cataract had left her blind since childhood. The cataract was removed, leaving the woman with near-perfect vision. A miraculous success.

The patient returned for a checkup a few weeks later. The book Crashing Through writes:

Her reaction startled Goodman. She had been happy and content as a blind person. Now sighted, she became anxious and depressed. She told him that she had spent her adult life on welfare and had never worked, married, or ventured far from home – a small existence to which she had become comfortably accustomed. Now, however, government officials told her that she no longer qualified for disability, and they expected her to get a job. Society wanted her to function normally. It was, she told Goodman, too much to handle.

Wow, you did not expect that ending to the story did you? It is no surprise that humans are the worst predictors of their own future. Our superpower, nay super-weakness is the ability to isolate exactly one outcome of the future (like more money, fame, here eyesight etc.) that we want, to the exclusion of everything else – often risks – that would automatically accompany that outcome.

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Quick not hasty

Google Pay has a nice ad. It shows people engaged in a variety of transactions, and then using the app to make their payments. The tagline that goes alongside is “Jaldi, lekin jaldbaazi nahin”, which means quick but not hasty. This is an important but often overlooked mode of action.

Just a few days ago, a friend of mine who had come back to his hometown for a break, was telling me that his marriage got fixed. But he had given an ultimatum to his fiancee, that they needed to be married in the following 3 weeks, before he headed back to his place of work. The girl’s side wasn’t so keen on this alacrity. Marriage is one of those things where it is not possible to momentarily reverse one’s decision – it is not a hop-on hop-off bus. While one can understand my friend’s urgency, in the long run, what is a few months here and there?

But we’ve now got used to doing everything at great speed. Instant gratification and all that. And we naturally come to expect this in spiritual progress as well. But as is very nicely described in Tattvabodha, there are four things simultaneously needed for moksha or liberation = a Guru + satsang + scriptures + X. Three of these we can all have. But what is X? It is time. No matter how much of a hurry we may be in, we cannot sidestep the learnings that time and experience unveil to us.

For large important life-changing decisions, quality trumps speed any day, especially if we want to minimize regrets in the future.

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Masculinity

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

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

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

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

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

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A tale of two-is-one

The famous opening line of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities goes “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.”

  • This is applicable to investing today – because the market is up, but the economy is down.
    There are many other examples too.
  • Within the same industry, during the same business cycle, one company gains market share, while another goes bankrupt.
  • The economy may be in the doldrums and companies downsizing, but some people still manage to find new jobs.
  • Within the same company, during the same appraisal cycle, one person gets promoted, another gets fired.
  • This is also true for those who are able to work-from-home, because they get more family-time. But it simultaneously also hard for those who need to compulsorily travel for work due to Covid, frontline workers and the like.
  • Speaking of family, one wants to get married but is unable to find the wife. Another is desperate to get divorced, but can’t get rid of the wife.
  • One person is blessed with kids, while another from the same family has struggled to conceive for years. Better still, the one with kids may find him/herself more stressed out than the one without.
  • One person with a lot of money is unhappy, but another having far lesser – yet living a simple contented life – is happy.
  • There may be the worst of riots, but also some kind souls who throw open their doors and hearts for help.

The world is a good place. But it is also a bad place.
Most people prefer to wallow in their misery – wallowing can bring pity but not success.
We find what we look for.
That’s how it’s always been, and always will be.

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Cat-ch me if you can

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Nectar for life

Here’s some pointers I found very thought-provoking from a recent speech my Guruji gave.

  • How to get moksha? By living a choice-less existence. Accept whatever comes to you. The goal of life isn’t to become rich or to be educated. The true goal of life is to realize the Self within, and realizing that That Thou Art (tat tvam asi)
  • We are all going to temples which are great energy centres, but always still asking for more and more materialistic things. When will the cravings stop?
  • Each one of us can achieve anything. One person has done 12 PHDs in printing technology, but still not used even 5% of his brain. Einstein used less than 5% of his brain. We can each do anything.
  • But we must always remember, that achieving great material things means nothing to the Lord, and to our progress on the spiritual path. Materialism will not help us see the Self within.
  • The biggest problem in our lives is not related to job, money, health, wealth or relationships. The biggest problem is that we have desires and are deeply attached to everything and everyone. Gita shlokas 2.71 and 2.72 clarify this.
  • Guruji had once said anyone can come and take anything in their house – even the altar. Even the Vishnu paadaas where he was doing puja with great love all the time. No attachments + no desires is the key. Vishnu paadaa is only a symbol. One must give up the whole world, only then can one attain moksha.
  • Sleeping early is a habit, but so is sleeping late. Reading scriptures is a habit, but so is not reading scriptures. Giving charity is a habit, but so is not giving charity. Same for eating and overeating. We must be careful about the habits we cultivate.
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Luckuidity

Here’s a short story that I came across (surprisingly!) in two different books within just the past week. The first book is called The Great Mental Models by Shane Parrish, while the other is the recently released How to Prevent a Climate Disaster by Bill Gates.

The story goes thus. There are two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”

There could be different takeaways for different people from this. To me, it is a simple yet profound reminder of all the good stuff that I’ve got in my life that I’m constantly and almost unknowningly taking for granted. If I would only stop to smell the roses along the way…

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Too much to read 2

Continuing on from yesterday, there is too much to read, but not enough time, isn’t it?

Yesterday’s takeaway was to focus on finding high-quality sources of information in just two categories:
a) your niche
b) general knowledge about how the world really works”

Point ‘a’ we probably are bombarded with inputs (emails, reports, whitepapers etc.) anyway from work. Even if not, we can look for specific books written on these topics (I like to keep looking at new and upcoming releases on Amazon and add them to my wishlist), or blogs that we can subscribe to.

Point ‘b’ most people probably do not focus on much, and this in my view can help each one of us build a serious edge – especially if it can be combined with ‘a’. How can we do this? One way is to read all your childhood textbooks – from grade 1 to grade 12, and then beyond. The wealth of knowledge in them is just outstanding – although we have mostly forgotten everything.

Point ‘c’, which is not mentioned above, is to actively reject all materials that do not fall under ‘a’ or ‘b’. This is very hard to do, as I’ve seen from personal experience. A link from a friend or family member, on to social media posts can lead us unto a clickthrough journey to nowhere.

Point ‘d’ (loosely subsumed under point ‘b’), is to also include reading one post on spirituality, spending just 30 seconds a day. This blog is one way to do that! 🙂

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Reply

Is there a way to make someone happy and praise them while also keeping the bar high? Here’s how my Guru did it once.

Many years ago, one of the satsangis went to him for advice. The satsangi was a bit nervous, as he told Guruji that this was his first time speaking in public on the Gita, and that he was a little scared. Guruji asked him which chapter was assigned to him. He said, “Chapter 7, Guruji.”

Guruji replied thus:
1. Wow, chapter 7, such a beautiful chapter, I’m so happy you got it! [infusing happiness]
2. You know what? My first talk too was on chapter 7. It is easy, and I know your capability, you can do it. [genuine praise]
3. I also prepared hard for it – I had read the chapter over 500 times, so that my session is worth my audience’s time. [setting the bar high]

Isn’t this such an inspiring reply, and something for us to learn?

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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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Best friend, worst friend

Remember when as kids, we used to have things like katti and bacchi? Stick your thumb out and that would mean good friend. And stick your pinky finger out and that would become sworn enemy. And a friend of a friend is a friend, and enemy of an enemy is an enemy. But of course, we were kids, so allegiances would change mighty quickly! You want to play soccer and there is only one kid who owns the ball? Everyone wants to be bacchi with him. Kids also are very quick to say (often to the face) “That girl – she’s my friend, but this girl? She’s my best friend” much to the embarrassment of the parents!

Those days are past, and we have outgrown these best friend worst friend monikers. There is still one best/worst friend though for each one of us. And it is not only simultaneously both best and worst friend, but also the same for all of us! Guessed it? The mind!

As verse 6.5 in the Gita says, ‘Elevate yourself through the power of your mind, and not degrade yourself, for the mind can be the friend and also the enemy of the self.

How can we make sure that the mind remains our friend, and not enemy? By eventually replacing all desires and attachments with gratitude. If desire comes in between mind and intellect, then they squabble. If there are no desires, and work is done as a service to benefit mankind or at the instruction of the Guru, then the mind and intellect on the spiritual path are best friends!

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Right arrows

The relationship we are all used to:

Hard work   ---->   Success   ---->   Happiness

The relationship suggested in our scriptures:

Gratitude   ---->   Happiness   ---->  Hard work   ---->   Success

Which of these do you feel is more sustainable? Which is easier to practise?

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536 AD

Did you just have the worst day, week or month ever? Yes, we’ve all had it bad – a terrible pandemic is wreaking havoc. And unfortunately, so many people have suffered immensely, many are dead too. But if you’re reading this, you’re at least alive. For many people, this year has been more of an inconvenience than anything worse. Still, there is no dearth of people cribbing despite the various conveniences they have got – including more time with family, more time with nature, lesser time spent commuting etc.

One way to remain mentally balanced, is to remember that things could have been much worse. How much worse, you ask? We need only look back to historian accounts of the year 536 AD. That is the year when a volcano in Iceland erupted. It sent such large volumes of ash into the atmosphere, that the whole earth was blanketed in smog – so much so that the sun could not be seen. Many parts of the world remained in darkness for two full years! Other consequences? The earth’s climate went for a toss resulting in droughts and starvation. The world economy went into depression. Enough already? This was then followed by a bubonic plague, wiping out 100 million people, nearly 50% of the world’s population at the time.

All this while not having TVs, computers, smartphones, internet and pretty much any technology. Today, we literally have everything, and have many many reasons to be happy. Yet many choose to isolate and focus only on the negatives. Let 536 AD be our wake up call.

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Take less stress

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

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

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

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

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