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Category: knowledge

(Wo)men

One of the books my Guru suggests we should all read is the Kural by Tamil poet Tiruvalluvar. No he’s not a Tamilian and he cannot read Tamil, but there are English translations (C. Rajagopalachari), so nothing to worry. We’ve discussed this book before a few times. It is a series of couplets, ~1300 of them, with amazing practical takeaways for daily life.

A question that comes to some readers is, why is everything written from a man’s perspective? And why does it sound derogatory to women? Like the ‘Life Partner’ chapter is all about duties of a woman – so men go scot-free?. And the children bit talks only about sons, not daughters. Where is the feminism and equality angle?

How should we understand  this? My Guru says whatever lessons are applicable to a man should also be taken to be applicable to women, wherever relevant, using common sense. Also:

  1. The book was written 100s of years ago. So certain aspects may need to be re-read in that context.
  2. We can combine the lessons from his Amazing Simple Gita – marry it with his purports. When it says a woman must be completely devoted to her husband, we absolutely take it to read the other way as well.
  3. Like the Vashishta – Arundhati stars in our galaxy – where they both go around each other, unlike the Sun in our solar system, where the Sun is relatively stationary and other planets orbit around it. Wedded couples too are supposed to be going around each other, not just one being stationary at a time.
  4. There are negative criticisms too in the Kural. But all of those too, are directed towards men only. Like a person who is speaking harshly is referred to as a man not a woman – so in that sense, both good and bad have been treated equally.

There are some absolute gems in the book – totally not worth missing out on, and certainly not because of this gender issue!

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Controller

For those of us with day jobs, a large part of they day goes in working. And with it comes the associated stress and anxiety. Specially when the employer / boss decides that the work you’ve done is not good enough and is communicated in a harsh manner. Or the phone calls that come over the weekend when it’s actually time go camping with your kids. Or the general office politics which are eating into your limelight because you are inherently a ‘non-political’ person.

We also get stressed in other non-work activities, like when we don’t have enough time for family and that plays on our minds, or when we have emergencies, or when we know the neighbour has bought a new car that we certainly cannot afford, or even when a close friend or colleague suddenly gets a massive promotion leaving us many steps behind. “Oh what a stroke of luck” we may think. And that could indeed be the case.

As we well know, there is no dearth of reasons to be anxious. My wife highlighted a piece from a book she is reading on Ayurveda and nutrition which is very interesting. The author says that most of the causes of stress in our lives are outside our control. We can’t control what the boss says, or the colleagues do, or what the neighbours will show off.

According to the book though, there are only two things we can and should control.
1 – Our diet (quality, quantity, timing), and
2 – Our sleep routine (again – quality, quantity, timing)
The author says with incredible conviction, that if these two things alone are sorted in our lives, the rest will take care of itself. Worth a try?

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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 4

So here’s the last of a series of thoughts on reading. This one involves a little bit of math, but is very simple – just so it drives home the point.

How much should we read? 1000 pages like Warren Buffet? That would be nice, but it would also mean that we would need to pursue reading as a full time job. Nice as it may sound, I’ve never come across such a job description!

A simpler way, is to target just 25 pages a day. This should take about half an hour. Not much at all. If we assume we sleep 8 hours and work 8 hours, we still have 8 hours left in the day. Half an hour in these eight hours is less than 10% of the time spent reading.

The magic happens as the reading practice compounds along. 25 pages a day, is 175 a week – which means roughly one book every 2 weeks, and ~26 books or ~10,000 pages a year – an incredible achievement for anyone who wasn’t reading much to begin with!

One important and final tip – do not count searching for the right book as part of your reading time – otherwise you can lose hours just searching for the right material. All the perfect books may not present themselves to you on day 1 itself – but I keep searching Amazon Books for new and upcoming releases periodically, and keep adding those to a wishlist/readlist. Works well. Put the posts ‘Too much to read 1-2-3-4’ together, and this should help us kickstart our reading journeys. Hope you liked it!

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Too much to read 3

A few more thoughts on reading as one of the best habits one can have. I was super lucky because my parents introduced me to reading very early in life, and holidays meant hitting the local libraries and devouring whatever books I could find my hands on. Initially, I used to read only fiction, but eventually I realized that non-fiction is where all the learning and development happens.

But it wasn’t easy – books weren’t available as easily three decades ago as it is today. Certainly not at the click of a button and delivered wirelessly over ‘whispernet’. However, there weren’t as many distractions as today either – perhaps making the act of reading itself more sustainable.

Technology does have a very good flip side though. Not only can we store 1000s of books in a flat e-reader, but we can also look up instant dictionaries, highlight items for future reference, make notes, export key paragraphs and more. And finding specific mentions across books was never easier. Tech is also awesome because of other formats like audio books, podcasts, and so on.

As my Guru says, the way to read a book, is to go in with full reverence to the author. To imagine that the author is himself/herself speaking to you through the pages, and personally sharing with you, decades of inimitable experience, all within just 300 pages! Such an amazing way to think about reading, isn’t it?

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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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Too much to read 1

We all know that reading is a good habit. Most hyper-successful people in fact suggest that they got to where they are only because they read a lot. A few hours a day at least. Warren Buffet for instance reads between 600 and 1000 pages – nope not in a month or a year, but every single day! He dedicates 80% of his day to reading.

Which got me thinking. A lot of us read a lot too – nowhere near Mr. Buffet perhaps, but we do get plenty of links on Whatsapp and LinkedIn and we read the news everyday – and there is just so much of information (mostly nonsense). Does that count as reading? What about fiction novels – does that count as reading? We probably know deep down that reading Harry Potter, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys or Mills & Boon don’t count as very productive reading – at least not in the material world as adults – unless we are budding authors.

So what should we read then? Here’s a nice tweet by Shane Parrish I came across, which addresses this:

"While information continues to compound, our ability to digest it is limited. We need to filter. But how?
Invest an abnormal amount of time finding high-quality sources of information in two categories:
a) your niche
b) general knowledge about how the world really works"

How can we apply this? More tomorrow…

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Rich is poor

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

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

William James Dawson

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

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

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

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Blindspots

Just because something is invisible to the eye, or appears beyond our comprehension and perception, does not make it non-existent or fraudulent. Take the example of gravity. Despite all the advancements in science and technology, we still do not understand the process behind why people drinking tea simultaneously at the North and South poles have no problem keeping the liquids in their cups. Take also the human body – with a plethora activities going on inside at any moment – digestion, cognition, respiration etc. all of which we tend to be blissfully unaware of.

The same is said to be true of Consciousness. It is very much there – the fabric underlying all Creation. There for everyone to experience, if scrutinized closely, yet immediately unavailable to any. This is not a paradox, as author Sam Harris of the outstanding book Waking Up (which delves deep into the topic of human consciousness) puts it. He goes on to describe an optic blindspot that each one of us has, and something I never knew of. Apparently the optic nerve passes through the retina of each eye, creating a small region in each visual field where we are effectively blind. He further adds that most people in human history have been totally unaware of the optic blind spot. Even those of us who know about it go for decades without noticing it. And yet, it is always there, right on the surface of experience. Here’s a simple experiment you can try yourself!

So, can we experience this Atman / Brahman / Consciousness within us? Yes, with some training / effort / meditation. As Harris puts it, “The self that I am discussing throughout this book—the illusory, albeit reliable, source of so much suffering and confusion—is the feeling that there is an inner subject, behind our eyes, thinking our thoughts and experiencing our experience. We must distinguish between the self and the myriad mental states—self-recognition, volition, memory, bodily awareness—with which it can be associated.

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Animal king

We know who the king of the jungle is, right? He’s the strongest, fastest, largest and cleverest animal of them all.

Wait, I thought ‘strongest’ was the elephant. And ‘largest’ animal should be the blue whale? And ‘cleverest’, the fox? The fastest surely is the cheetah. But none of these guys are the kings!

The king is one who may not be the best at everything, but is able to keep it all together, and exude a level of confidence that no other member of the kingdom is able to.

We think lions and tigers have a chilled out life, sitting cushy at the top of the food chain. But no, they struggle too. The males have to constantly guard their territory and females from other usurper males. The females have to constantly look out for the safety of their kids, not just from said usurpers, but also from the father lion who might kill the babies seeing them as a threat to his status. When it comes to food, most hunts end in failure, with mom and babies having to go to bed hungry for days together – and so it is not as easy as it seems.

Nature never has it easy on anyone. That’s the cycle of life. One has to work hard to earn their living, or at least to sustain their lifestyle. This is a universal truth, applicable in past lives, this life, and the next.

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The baby brain

There is a concept called the ‘beginner brain’. Maybe you’ve heard of it. We could also call it the baby brain. It is a super useful concept, and also very easy to apply.

The idea is this. Why do babies learn so much and why do they enjoy it? Because they have no past reference points, of what is good or bad, and what is successful or not. They hence have zero expectations and are able to joyously accept all their experiences as learnings.

Can we do this in our daily lives? We tend to approach all our situations with the ‘expert brain’. Despite knowing the tendencies of an irate boss, can we still go into the meeting room with no expectations? Despite having a world of desires to fulfil, can we still embark on our day to day projects without worrying about the result? And can we respond calmly during the torrid times in our relationships, because we switch on our baby brains and have no expectations from our partner/spouse? Surely these are difficult, and progress will come over time.

But there are a few things we can start off with, to help the process. For example, without worrying about the meeting with your boss, you could tell yourself that every meeting is a new one, with new possibilities, and be grateful that you have a job in such tough times. Instead of being frustrated by your better-half because he/she doesn’t meet your standards, you could view them in new light, acknowledge that they’re just trying to be happy, that you both share good intentions, and they are struggling just like you are. Over time, this practise helps us be more flexible, open, curious, grateful and present in the moment.

Even before that, want to just test what it feels like to have a baby brain? Try brushing / combing / eating with your non-dominant hand. Have fun!

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Compounding experience

Here are some simple truths my Guru keeps mentioning. They are so easy to apply but we (or I) still do not.

  1. In Hindi, “Viveki ko anadar mat karna, warna zindagi bhar dukhi rahoge“. This means, if you disrespect a wise person, you will be sorrowful throughout your life. Is this easy to understand? Yes it is. His own example is, between a 2 year old and a 6 year old, who is better for life advice? The parent will always tell the 2yo to learn from the 6yo. But introduce a 10 yo, and automatically the 6yo will learn from the 10yo. Life experiences have a compounding effect, and hence an 80yo (especially a wise person like a Guru) will have a better world view than a 40yo.
  2. Benjamin Franklin’s statement on the same point, but just said differently. “Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other

My Guru was no doubt referring to me when he said these things. He continues to say them, which also tells me I have a long way to go. As Robert Frost would say, miles to go before I sleep.

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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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Hands on

The year was 1984. An elite group had assembled in a club for a Toastmasters dinner. There were CEOs, MDs, Heads of Departments and many other dignitaries in that audience.

My Guru, who was also present, was suddenly asked to give a short speech there. No he was not the CxO of any multi national organization. He was probably retired at the time, already beginning to renounce everything. So titles and statuses made no difference to him.

A normal person would ask, “Then what the heck did you speak about, to such a distinguished audience, Guruji?”

“Simple”, his unassuming reply. “The one common thing that anyone and everyone is interested in, is themselves. So I discussed palmistry 101 with them. The life line, the head line, the heart line, the money line and so on. Do you think there was even one person in that audience who’s eyes were not glued onto their own palms? Whether CEO or King, everyone is truly interested only in themselves.”

The topic itself was not important. But the focus and theme of communication, i.e. ‘people love themselves’, was so effectively made use of – that not a single person wanted the session to end, even after 30 minutes! Question to myself: when I want to capture someone’s interest, should I talk about my life? Or that person’s?

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The equalizer

Technology has really changed the world. We know this. We each feel this, tangibly on a daily basis. Many of us are just consumers, and have probably not realized its true potential – as a money spinner.

In the olden times, economic success was cornered by those with resources i.e. money, land or labour. Today, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Why? Because of the internet.

Want to build your own e-commerce website? It is literally drag-and-drop. Have a great product to sell? Amazon will do it for you. Want to build your own brand? You can do it from your own home. Have a talent to showcase? You can blog about it. Or create YouTube videos. Or maybe begin a podcast. Get your 10 million followers, and you could become an influencer, just sitting in the comfort of your living room. Not to say that this is easy. But it is certainly within the reach of the common man. Nay, even the common kid! One famous YouTube channel has a small boy reviewing a variety of toys and playthings, so much so that he earned over US$ 20 million in a single year! All the major toy companies fight over themselves to send him their latest toys in the hope of winning his approval.

Why is all this important? Because the economic success and allied happiness we seek has never been easier to attain. One does not need to only become an “engineer/doctor/lawyer” to become rich. The new age gig economy actually enables people to work on what they love doing, and get paid handsomely for it. There is now a real way for passion to be monetized. And a way for age, legacy, background, gender, location, education and many other previously important things, to all be neutralized. Are you taking advantage of the trend yet?

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“Tell Me Something About Yourself”

The ‘TMSAY’ question. It’s the one consistent question across all interviewers and jobs. And the one most interviewees hate! Is that because it is so difficult to talk about ourselves? No surely that cannot be the reason. Everyone loves to talk about the biggest star in their lives (hint: themselves!).

Most answers are similar to “I worked here for x years and studied that for y years.” Instead of achievements, some career counsellors suggest we must focus on our qualities instead. What do I stand for? How many people have I helped along my way here? What inspires me? What are the things that I would do, even if I get paid nothing?

There are no right or wrong answers. But being truthful to ourselves, will guide us to where we want to be. Yes, maybe current circumstances do not permit a change of role, with a hectic schedule. But surely 30 minutes a day or even a couple of hours a week are enough to work on attaining that which is dear to us?

The TMSAY question is an amazing one, requires deep thought, and should be answered by everyone even if there is no interview. Who are we really. What are we doing here (not just the interview, but on this earth itself)? Are we who we really think we are – limited only to this body? Could there be more to all this?

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Acronyms of a liberated soul

Just a fun post this one (aren’t they all!). Here’s how a liberated soul might react to some common acronyms:

ICYMI – In Case You Missed It – “There is nothing to miss, because nothing ever was.”
BRB – Be Right Back – “How can you be so sure? It is all a play of the Supreme”
AFAIK – As Far As I Know – “We know nothing. Even Saraswati says she knows less than 1% of all creation.’
G2G – Got To Go – “What is the hurry? In a 100 years from now, none of us will matter”
BTW – By The Way – “All ways lead only to Him.”
YOLO – You Only Live Once – “Couldn’t be further from the truth.”
OMG – Oh My God – “Why do you exclaim only in times of need? There is nothing besides God”
IMHO – In My Humble Opinion – “I have no opinion, it is all God’s plan and His doing only”
IDK – I Don’t Know – “Yes, you are right on that one”
LOL – Laughing Out Loud – “I’ll join you, because life is fun.”
FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions – “What is Brahman, Aatman, Paramatman, Maya, Moksha?”
DIY – Do It Yourself – “Who else will? You came alone, you will go alone.”

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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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1+1=?

Dominos Pizza recently launched a new pizza. My first reaction was “What kind of a weird combination is this?” The same reaction I observed in some of my colleagues / friends / family members as well when it came up for discussion.

The combo was that of pasta and pizza. Or rather pasta on top of the pizza. Who even came up with such an idea?

Of course we know things like “Do not judge a book by its cover” or “Beauty is only skin deep”. But I still couldn’t help but wonder who would have thought up putting this portmanteau of a dish together.

Having tried the pasta-pizza though, I was really surprised at how good it tasted. Not only did each individual dish retain its own flavour, but their synergistic convergence was drool inducing, and had me thinking about eating more slices long after the box had been emptied and thrown away.

So it is, that the whole can always be greater than the sum of its parts, as long as each ingredient gives its best to the mix. This is relevant for people as well. Instead of bringing up ego battles when two stalwarts come together, it is far more beneficial if they work together for mutual and wider benefit. The same goes for us. We each have many many wonderful things to contribute to the world. Why should our ego be one of them?

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Morose code

A whole host of startups have emerged that seemed to be aimed at killing the joys of childhood. No more playing after school, no more watching cartoons, no more enjoying with other kids in the neighborhood.

Okay maybe its not so bad. But it’s certainly moving in that direction. The focus on academics has just gotten ridiculously high. Of course education is important, at least from a worldly perspective. Good credentials certainly help in getting jobs, and providing for the family.

But rats that most of us are, does the rat race have to begin at the tender age of 5?

There are now courses that teach kids to code. Some others teach kids ‘junior MBAs’ and ‘junior CEOs’. Putting undue pressure on kids is a dicey strategy, because they need to get to the age of 20 or 30 or 40 without suffering other mental health issues first. Fine, I get that coding has become a very important skill. But just alongside that, there are startups in the domain of ‘no-code’, which (simply put) means that these new age companies want to automate the process of coding itself. If this is the future, what then is the point of learning coding at age 5? Too much is changing too fast, and an inability to keep pace is leading to hundreds of millions of youngsters feeling inadequate, incompetent and helpless.

Laughing in the wind, rain on the face, mud in the shoes, learning values and morals from parents – those are the joys of childhood. Coding, CEO and MBA can wait.

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