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Category: mind

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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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 – part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Twit quot 2

Here are some more simple yet profound quotes I came across on Twitter:

The way to forget insults is to not take compliments in the first place.
When in doubt, go for a walk.
Don't worry about being qualified. Everyone is learning as they go.
Reading 1-2 hours a day puts me in the top 0.00001%.
In the short term you are as good as your intensity. In the long term, you are as good as your consistency.

Link to Twit quot 1

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Small to great

We discussed recently how Yudhishthira and Duryodhana went around the kingdom to find good people, and how the latter couldn’t find even one good person, while the former found goodness in everyone.

Do we too become like Duryodhana sometimes?

If we do a self-audit, would we find ourselves cribbing a lot about others, gossiping, talking behind people’s backs, complaining about the company we work for and the bosses, putting down others who got promotions (especially if they didn’t seem to deserve it!) and so on? Oh and not to forget much of the bashing has actually moved online these days – with social media becoming nothing short of the Kurukshetra battlefield (no matter the topic, there will be enough armchair experts to give you a rough time). It’s fine – these are normal, and we are human, so it is bound to happen.

The real problem with such discussions and thoughts though, is that constantly talking about other people’s negative qualities will subconsciously cause us to also become more negative. We not only talk bad about others, but this mindset also pulls us into a deeply self-critical mode. We eventually begin to question our own looks (lack of hair, long nose etc.), our talents, our abilities and capabilities as well simply because that negativity has seeped right in. Having a positive view of things, and celebrating even small joys and victories each and every day is much better than being morose and picking out the losses, even if they outnumber the daily wins 10 to 1. So it all boils down to keeping the mind focused on the good.

As a former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Small minds discuss people, average minds discuss events, great minds discuss ideas.”

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Metabolic reversal

There are only two things we need to do to be happy.

  1. Have a fit body.
  2. Have a fit mind.

Indeed this sounds very simple. It is, but it is not easy to achieve.

A fit body requires being active throughout the day. “Oh how I wish my metabolism would be better!” Contrary to popular perception, we do not move less because of low metabolism. We move less to begin with, and that leads to low metabolism!

A fit mind on the other hand, requires lesser movement and more stability. Meditation, or the ability to focus and concentrate is key. And this comes only with practice.

How contradictory! The body needs movement, while the mind needs stability.

For many of us, given all the developments in technology and instant deliveries, our bodies are mostly resting, while our minds are mostly exercising. Just reversing that, will make our lives infinitely better.

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Overthinking

Overthinking. This is a big problem many of us have. But it is not a disease – only a habit. And one that we can consciously change. A lot of students often wish to know how to tackle this.

Thinking mostly happens when there is an absence of doing. As they say, an idle mind is a devil’s workshop.

It would also perhaps help to acknowledge first, that no matter what we do in life, there will always be way too many things outside our control. Right from whether the cleaners come on time, or whether there’ll be a traffic jam on your way to work, or even how your own family members might react to an important development in your life – we just can never be sure of the outcome.

Hence overthinking won’t help, because the additional thinking has limited control on the situations around us.

However, thinking per se, is not bad, and is probably necessary. Planning, strategy, evaluating the options etc. all come from thinking. The challenge is preventing thinking from going overboard. One way to achieve this, is to replace extra thought with action. As Lord Krishna said in the Gita, the panacea for Kali Yuga is Karma Yoga.

Just like we schedule activities for ourselves, it helps to schedule maybe 30 or 45 minutes on a day for thinking / overthinking. During this interval, one can feel free to let their mind run riot.

But outside this time, no overthinking, only doing.

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I think you think I think

When do I think I’m happy? When society has watched me ‘arrive’ in life. When society thinks that I’m successful.

How does society define this success of mine? Once I get a promotion at work, buy a house, have paid off my loans, take a vacation in Hawaii, maybe sell a million dollar start-up to some VC etc.

Jay Shetty in his book Think Like a Monk, drives home a very important point. He quotes a sociologist named Charles Horton Cooley from 1902 thus. “I am not what I think I am, and I am not what you think I am. I am what I think you think I am.” I had to read this a couple of times to let it sink in.

What he’s saying is what we all know. But it’s still so powerful. Society is not defining my success. It is me who is giving society a moving goalpost to evaluate me. Society couldn’t care less if I got one promotion or three. But my folly lies in thinking that society cares.

As my Guru asks often, “Do you even remember what shirt your friend wore a few days ago? What they ate 5 days ago? What they said 15 days ago?” No one remembers anything, except when it is relevant to themselves. No one is thinking about us, let alone about the metrics for our success. Let us live by our own scorecards. This will elevate our happiness and bring down stress and anxiety.

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Seeing is solving

There is a saying, ‘Jaisi drishti waisi srishti’. This is nice and rhyming in Hindi/Sanskrit, but in English not so much. But the meaning is powerful – it says that the way we look at the world, is the way the world is.

An example in the Mahabharata illustrates this well. Both Duryodhana (Kaurava head, bad guy) and Yudhishtira (Pandava head, nice guy) were asked to go and find a good person in the kingdom. The story goes that at the end of the day, Duryodhana could find not even one person, whereas Yudhishtira found good qualities in everyone.

The application of this thought is more important than we give credit for. As human beings controlled by a monkey mind, we give in to mood swings all too often. When the going is good, the world seems nice and rosy, and when the tide turns, everything seems futile.

To be clear, just remembering the above saying doesn’t mean we will never encounter troubling situations in life. But having a happy mind will enable us to find solutions where none seem to exist. And that alone is the difference between those who are successful and those who are not. Because problems come to everyone. How they are tackled makes all the difference.

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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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Successfool

Why material success is important
better quality of life
more amount for charity
more time for social work (i.e. your wealth has brought you freedom)
brings temporary happiness
the world wants you, which is important for getting worldly things done

Why material success is not important
fuels the ego
is only a relative measure versus peers
limits learning (we feel we know everything)
only brings temporary happiness
a world that wants you, capsizes you
has no bearing on spiritual growth

What if we could live physically in the world as though successful, but mentally give up all success to the Lord / Guru / Divine? Win-win!

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Ritualistic

There is only one true reason to perform rituals, as my Guru says. And that is, to purify the mind.

What does purification of the mind mean? At one level, it involves destroying the mind altogether. In a non-violent manner of course. We all know our monkey-minds are always going off on tangents, ever seeking more and more. What if this mind could come under control? Very difficult? I agree!

At another (and maybe more easier, and more tangible) level, purifying the mind involves broadening its scope. For most of us, our lives revolve only around ourselves – our wants, needs, desires. But what if we could include others, friends, family, acquaintances, strangers – eventually the whole world, especially all the good people – into our vision of goodness? What if we could desire good for all?

Herein lies the beauty of my Guru’s recommendations. Do the rituals you like, but perform them for the larger benefit of society. Chanting some shlokas? Excellent, chant for mother earth. Doing charity? Wonderful. Keep aside 10% of your income, no matter how small. Use the remaining 90% – invest it, let it compound – have it your way. But the 10% that you’ve decided to give away – that will begin to purify your mind. Because the human mind has been trained for countless generations to simply do everything it can to survive and sustain. There is more to life than that though. As the ancients tell us, the real magic happens when the ego melts away. That will happen when we truly believe that nothing belongs to ‘us’, and the mind merges with the universal mind.

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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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