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Category: mind

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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Problematic

Verse 2.55 in the Gita is an interesting one.

But before that, do we have any problems in life? If no, then you are a jivanmukta. If yes, which should be the case for most of us, then the next questions should be – where do our problems come from?

For everyone who is working, we might unanimously think “Oh all my life’s problems come from my boss”. For those of us who are studying, we might think “Oh these darned exams. I love to study and read, but I so hate giving exams and having to compete in the mindless rat race”. For others, problems come from maybe an irritating sibling, or a friend, or a colleague, or even from certain things not going our way.

So the sources of problems can be multifarious.

But Krishna has a different take. He is saying “Hang on, all your problems, my problems, the world’s problems have only one source. And that source, is an unstable mind”.

And hence verse 2.55 says, “When one thoroughly casts off all cravings of the mind, is satisfied in the Self, through the joy of the Self, he is called one of stable mind.”

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Superior inferior

In the workplace, a common complaint I’ve heard across industries and sectors is that it appears the seniors / superiors / bosses / managers don’t really do much. They also don’t know much. But by virtue of their legacy, having warmed their chairs for many years, they get to be where they are.

How to tackle this? Here are some ways to look at this:

  1. If we are junior to someone else, we cannot control the other person’s current position or future career trajectory.
  2. We can control what we do with our hours put in at work though.
  3. In many cases, a person’s authority in a particular position comes solely because of the title. If an incompetent person is made head of the team, it is still the head only who can take certain decisions, whether bad or good.
  4. If a superior doesn’t ‘deserve’ a role, s/he may hold the position for a very long time, but the impact they will create will be negligible.
  5. If we get a chance to go into that role in say 3 years or 5 years, what would our impact be then? What would we want it to be?
  6. If the impact has to be much better, then we need to start putting in substantial efforts – from today itself.
  7. We cannot control the outcome of tomorrow, but we can control what we learn today, what skills we develop today and what networks we build today. This is most important. And it has never been easier to learn new things and add to ones repertoire – whether via Udemy, or YouTube or Coursera or any other.

As Swami Vivekananda has said, “We find ourselves in the position for which we are fit, and if one has some capacity above another, the world will find that out too.”

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Young dung

Often times, new comers, especially youngsters, come to the satsang seemingly in bliss. No, no, not that they’re high or anything, but they can often not see the point of having a satsang or being in one.

“Life is good. I’m working in a good company. I get recognized for my work. I get a monthly salary. I’m interacting with my friends and colleagues and having fun. Everything is fine and dandy. Then why do I need satsang at all? Meditation, liberation, sanskrit verses, detachment, no desires and blah blah blah, my problems aren’t really so big that I need to do all these boring things”, all the youth seem to say.

There can be two ways to think about this.

1. Yes, forget satsang and spirituality and all that. If really someone is in nirvana with the life around them, then so be it! No stress, no anxiety, no peer pressure, no comparison right? Life’s good, and everyone believes you.

2. Maybe one day, some day, hopefully never, there is the off-chance that something in that “perfect life” may not go according to plan. And when that happens, opening up a chapter of the Gita will be too little, too late, and meaningless. Because spirituality is not about knowledge, but about action. And no artist perfected his craft with just the first stroke. That’s why years of practice are necessary, and no different for spiritual success either.

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Control centre

Here’s a cool story I heard on an investment-Guru Howard Marks’ interview podcast. It was apparently narrated to him by his father.

A man loved gambling. He used to spend whatever money he’d make on horse racing.

But he wasn’t very good at it. So he ended up losing money.

A lot of it.

One day, he decided that he would win for sure. So he went and bet on a race where there was only one horse.

A cinch, right?

No, because halfway through the race, the lone horse jumped over the fence and bolted off to freedom.

Life is like that. So unpredictable, even when we think we have it all under control.

Pretty much nothing is in our control, externally.

But if we control our minds, then we do not need to control anything external.

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Paralimping

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

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

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Heavenly hell

Since time immemorial, man has wanted to live an enjoyable afterlife. Avoid hell at any cost, and make sure to get into heaven.

Why heaven? Because everything there is awesome – a cornucopia of food, women, money, opulence and grandeur. Who wouldn’t want to go to such a place no?

The question to ask is, even if we had all this, would we still be happy? Is happiness guaranteed? Surely some celestial beings in heaven would be having more comforts than others. And the comparison game would begin playing on their minds. Or if everything was always available equally and status quo for everyone, then surely life would become very boring, and that would lead to its own problems.

So a promised heaven in the afterlife really is not an answer at all.

Then what about in this life? I really like how Sadhguru puts it. “If you are doing something unwillingly, that is your Hell. If you are doing something willingly, that is your Heaven.”

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Randomly random

Karma. That is what we are constantly accruing. But it is also the name of a newly released book by Acharya Prashant. He’s an IIT-IIM-grad-turned-spiritual-Guru and so I was quite keen to read what he has to say on this topic.

There are many interesting things he covers. One for today’s post, is on randomness. He says that the happenings in the material world around us are truly random. That it is impossible to predict the future with any certainty.

There are so many people and creatures in the world and each has its own free will. When all of these interact, in real time, dynamically, how is it possible to ‘setup’ a specific karmic event for any single individual that is supposed to experience the fruits of their past actions?

The thought is sobering, and indeed seems to make sense from the perspective of our limited and miniscule intellect. But for the Creator of everything around us, maybe it is not such a big deal? The author agrees that karmic law exists. However, this is applicable at the level of an individual, by way of his/her reaction to an external stimulus, i.e. two people could react very differently to the same news, for instance.

So is this what the birth chart of a native predicts in vedic astrology? That s/he will be successful during this period, or will get married during this period, and so is perhaps referring to internal emotions likely to be felt by the native? The word ‘likely’ is important, because free will can be exercised in a counterfactual manner.

There are also many great saints who have tweaked the karma of their disciples. Some say that mass fatalities like plane crashes and terrorism are part of ‘community karma’, perhaps engineered to perfection by Nature Herself. How does that fit in here, in a world ruled by free will and chaos? I guess there will always be some things we just cannot understand…

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Tough life

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

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

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

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Working remotely

There’s a lot of people who want to work remotely these days. Work from the mountains. Work from the snow. Work from the riverside. Work from the beaches. Work from anywhere but home. All you need is a strong internet connection and some good homecooked food.

I know many people who’ve made this journey as well. From a few weeks to a few months, they’ve tried different combinations. And technology has certainly made things easier. No denying that. However, the feedback I’ve got (and it’s expected of course!) is that the work doesn’t magically become lighter. The sweet aroma of the flowers from the mountain top does little to change the deadline of an irate client.

Said differently, all that matters is what’s in our minds. If we train it to seek a rumbling waterfall or gurgling creek in order to do our work well, then that’s what it will keep demanding, regardless of whether it actually works well in that landscape.

Also, we hardly know what is good for us – but we always think we do. A recent tragedy is a case in point. So many wanted to work remotely from this idyllic place. But said place saw unexpected rains and subsequent landslides that resulted in quite a bit of destruction and loss of lives. Sometimes, if life doesn’t go the way we dream it too, maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Does that mean we should never wish for anything? Not at all, but if it doesn’t go our way, then best to just take it in our stride.

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1 – 2 ka 4

Someone asked the tennis legend Martina Navratilova once how she can continue playing so well at the age of 43. Her reply was precious. She said, “The ball doesn’t know how young or old I am. Besides, for 90% of the match, I do not need to focus.”

This is an amazing response on two counts. One, it is the internal content of the person that really matters. Which is why we see so many billion dollar companies being run by 20- or 30-year olds, and not necessarily by septuagenarians alone. While hierarchy, age and respect are important, when it comes to work and giving one’s best, the opinions of the world around us do not matter much.

Two, in our daily work, it might appear that we are working 12-15 hours a day. But is every minute or every hour really that intense and productive? Likely not. Which is why more and more research and experiments seem to suggest that taking walks and breaks and creative time off is better than just sitting at one’s desk for hours on end.

In certain professions, this is easier. Like for Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps – they need to bring their A-game and focus for the entirety of only 1 or 2 minutes. And that will last them 4 years at the Olympics. No comments on the length of their practise sessions though 😃

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Equations – part 2

A few more simple equations:

  1. Visualization + execution >>> execution-only > visualization-only
  2. Health + wealth >> Health > wealth
  3. Distraction = destruction
  4. Spirituality = embracing uncertainty
  5. Pain =/= suffering; suffering is only in the mind
  6. Pain + reflection = progress

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From raags to riches

Raaga in sankrit refers to attachment. This attachment is considered to be one of the greatest barriers to spiritual evolution. Why so? Because if we are attached to our own body, our own families, our own this and that, then there is no scope for appreciating the one true Consciousness, which is everywhere at once.

The requirement then is to get rid of this raaga. This is called vairaagya or detachment. Defining it is easy, but actually living it is nearly impossible. Just play with a cute baby for a few hours, and you’ll find yourself attached, and thinking of the baby many times a day “Oh so cute!”.

As my Guru recently commented:

  1. Bhakti or devotion, means inseparable pain when away from the Lord. Which them implies needing to give up everything else, i.e. devotion begins when raaga ends.
  2. Parents believe that giving their children a lot of wealth would tantamount to their welfare. But no, their welfare is in their vairagya or detachment to the wealth.
  3. Someone did something bad to you. That is over. Now forget about it. Don’t replay it a 100 times for 100 years. If we are mentally at peace, then vairagya becomes easy.
  4. Supremely detached fellow is giving hundreds of thousands to charitable organizations but is fighting for a few rupees with the roadside vegetable vendor.

All worth pondering over deeply.

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Mediterranean Life – is back

We discussed the TV show Mediterranean Life back in April this year. They’re back with season 2, and boy do those landscapes and vistas and balcony views look stunning!

So yet another bunch of families leave their homes and hometowns behind, in the quest for a peaceful Mediterranean lifestyle.

One opening remark by one of the wandering souls struck me deeply. He said, “Wow what sunny beaches. I’m so happy to leave behind all the snow. Yay, no more snow!”

No more snow? I’ve never been to a place while it’s snowing. I don’t know how snow feels. Is it hard? soft? fluffy? I’ve seen many YouTube videos of course, but never had snow falling over my head. But 45-degrees sun? Yes that I’ve seen plenty of.

It’s amazing how what one person is running towards, another is running away from. The bottom line is that people are always running. Standing still might be the best antidote to all our problems. Physically, and mentally.

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Struggler

Everyone is constantly struggling. Someone wants to change their job. Someone wants to have the same job that this other person is so desperate to leave. Someone wants more money. Someone with a lot of money wants to know how to invest it best. Someone wants more recognition. Someone wants more love and legitimacy in their relationship. Someone wants a family. Someone wants a child. And on and on and on. The struggles are never ending.

Everyone thinks their baby days were the best. No office tension. No home tension. No need to do anything. Just cry, and you can be assured of full service. But is it that easy?

Babies cry for the weirdest reasons. Could be a little gas in the tummy. Or a sudden loud sound. Or hearing another baby nearby cry. Or not knowing how to go to sleep. Or hunger. Or tiredness. You name it. And their cries are really loud. Because that’s the only defence/weapon that human babies have in their arsenal.

And the other end of the spectrum? As an old person, maybe touching 100, are they free from struggles? Despite presumably having lived happy lives, having had great careers, made name and fame, having wonderful large grand and great-grandchildren, they might struggle for basic physical needs – like getting up for a glass of water maybe.

Life moves fast, and we each are going from one end of the spectrum to the other at breakneck speed. And this struggle is constant – during every step of this ephemeral spectral move. When one struggle ends, the next begins.

However, as every spiritual text would tell us, the struggle really is only in the mind, as is the victory over it. We know this, yet we struggle. That is the biggest struggle.

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Securing the crown – part 3

Do we think that money can buy us everything? It might certainly seem so. And not just money – what if you had power as well, and status? And servants at your beck and call. Also media people tracking your every move. A true celebrity. And on top of this all, you don’t need to work at all. Not a single day of your life. Yes, that’s right – no work at all!

Too good to be true you say?

This was the exact problem facing Princess Margaret as beautifully captured in the Netflix series The Crown. She’s of royal blood, has an entourage of obsequious ministers, servants and attendants one can only imagine and never has to worry about money. The only mistake she made? Being born second in-line, not first. Her elder sister, Queen Elizabeth II, became Queen (duh!).

In some wonderful dialogue exchanges, Princess Margaret is actually seen beseeching her elder sister for more work – for more representation. “I have everything, but I have nothing to do, nowhere to go!”

So to those of us who believe that having all the material pleasures of the world is the endgame, we must rethink whether that will be enough. It might quell our fantasies for today, but will it quell our mind of tomorrow?

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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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Doing the dishes

Here’s an example of applying learnings from spirituality to the real world.

You have a maid for cleaning utensils. You pay her a salary. You pay her even if she doesn’t come for a few days, like when she took time off to go back to her ancestral home, or when there was a lockdown etc. You also pay her kids’ school fees, and often buy chocolates for them. She knows you are a good person.

One day you need to go out urgently, maybe to the hospital or some such. It’s unavoidable, and so you ring up the maid and request her to come in earlier, only for today, and only by a couple of hours. She replies with some excuse (like she has to cook food at her home) and hence cannot come.

It’s easy to get angry at this point – even if only internally. “I’ve done so much for this maid, and the one day when I have an urgency, she can’t make it?” That she cannot come, is a fact. But how we react to the situation is not yet so, and entirely in our control. We could get angry and spoil the mood of the entire home for the day. Or we could don the kitchen gloves, put on our earphones and listen to music or a podcast while doing the dishes. Two birds with one stone. The solution is in our own hands.

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Standing tall

As a boy, one of the important things as you’d grow up to becoming an adult is your height. The magic 6-feet number is an elusive one for many, maybe most. It’s cool to be tall, you can see above most others in the room, and perhaps even be spotted by the ladies, head above the rest and all. But height is not what one has under their control. You can hang from pull-up bars, but there is no guarantee!

Over time, these views change.

You realize that being physically tall is irrelevant – but one is as tall as the problems they have overcome.

One’s actual figure on the weighing scale doesn’t matter much, but one’s influence in life – amongst their colleagues, peers, friends and family is what counts.

The fairness of the skin is not important, but one’s moral code, impartiality and treating everyone around them fairly is what could be a real differentiator in this world.

The strength of the muscles in the body is a good sign of physical health, but far more important perhaps is the strength of the mind – which would help one dominate fear, failure and self-doubt.

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Visual creatures

One of my Guru’s most favourite topics is the power of visualization. He loves to help others (young and old) visualize their future dreams and goals. He is of the strongest opinion that it has an undeniable and incredible influence on the final outcome. And through this power of visualization, he has made so many miracles happen – things that otherwise seemed impossible, but happened nonetheless.

This visualization principle is not different from what other sources might teach us. Rhonda Byrne’s book The Secret, which became a worldwide phenomenon when it was released, essentially said “The universe will give you whatever you ask it.”

And we know that if we set our minds to something and go after it with single-pointed focus, then rarely can something stop us along the way.

“But how is it possible Guruji, how can we create the future by simply visualizing?” I once naively asked him.

His response was golden. “Deep down, we are all Brahman. All Creation has come from the same Brahman. Why can’t the Brahman inside you create the future that you want then?”

Point taken.

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