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Category: time

Lights out

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

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

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

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

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

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Single-tasking

Have you ever seen a job description that asks you to work only on a single task? If you have, then please forward it to me so that I can apply šŸ˜‚.

In this book I’m reading called Beyond the Alphas, the author mentions that the average worker makes between 10,000 and 40,000 decisions – every day!

This is just insane. Apparently we also switch between tasks no less than 300 times a day. For all this talk and requirement for multitasking – is this something that is really even possible? Can I read a book and play a video game, at the very same time? Or can I have a deep conversation with my spouse while also watching TV? That second one I don’t even want to attempt!

Multitasking is only done by computers, that can really run multiple processes in parallel. And when we have computers doing all that work, why should we? Computers don’t get tensed or anxious or stressed, but we certainly do.

That’s why it might be a good idea, to get back to single-tasking, at least on the weekends. To spend 3 hours reading a book, and nothing else. Or an hour of deep conversation, and nothing else. A few hours playing with the kids, and nothing else. Including no phones, tablets or other screens for distraction. Let’s try it out!

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NWL

In the amazing Netflix show The Crown, there’s an interesting scene. The show itself chronicles Queen Elizabeth’s life and her ascension to the throne at a relatively young age. I don’t know if that’s what the entire show is about – we’re only on season 1, and there are three more to go at least. But soon after her coronation, her mother (now the ex-queen Mary) feels quite suffocated and heads off to Scotland to be with some friends and to get some air (riding horses by the seaside, hiking in amazingly scenic landscapes, you get the drift). In this particular scene, the ex-Queen is asked by her friends, “Has it been very difficult?” To which she replies thus:

"I don't want to sound self-piteous but loss has followed loss. First and foremost, the loss of a husband.
Then the loss of a home, having to leave the palace. The loss of motherhood, as daughters become adults.
Loss of a routine, a sense of purpose. The loss of a Crown. Imagine, 17 years' experience as Queen and being the head of the family. Bertie was a wonderful husband and father, but he needed a great deal of help as King.
And then we lose him and, at precisely the moment when they should be giving me more to do, stop me falling into despair, they take it all away... They put it all into the hands of a girl who's totally unequipped for it."

If this were to be on Twitter, people would tag it as #firstworldproblems. Of course, a bereavement is never easy. But it also shows that power – especially got from position – is impossible to let go of. What she went through, every human being must go through as they age – whether queen or not. It begs the question – do we even realize when our needs becomes wants, and our wants become luxuries?

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Lockdown

“Isolation” and “Quarantine” and “Lockdown”. Three words that have suddenly become commonplace, all thanks to the Covid situation. Most people everywhere seem to be cribbing big time. “I’m so sick of staying at home. Just can’t wait for things to open up. I hate this lockdown business. Can’t even go anywhere. I really miss my vacations and international trips.”

But a change in mindset is necessary. An entitled person may think sitting at home unable to travel for pleasure is bad. But how about those people who are isolated in hospital wards, separated from their loved ones, stuck on a hospital bed amongst hundreds of others, breathing into tubes attached to cylinders, with no indication of when their ordeal would end. Isn’t that infinitely worse? And then there are those that desperately need hospitals / ICUs / beds but these are all full. What of them?

As an Indian army jawan noted on his Linkedin post – “Don’t be scared of isolation. My longest spell was on Siachen glacier, lasting 138 days, with 98 days of intense firing. All 19 of us survived 100s of kilos of TNT. I lost 19 kilos of weight, and took bath after 138 days. The minimum temperature was -50-degrees Celcius.”

What are the rest of us cribbing about? We must be deeply cognizant that anyone stepping out for any reason could be the cause for someone else falling sick or losing a loved one. It is our duty to stay indoors and safe, until all this bad news passes.

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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 ā€“ 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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FTP 30 TAP

To a computer engineer, these might sound like some network transfer protocols. But I’m not one, so I have no idea šŸ˜

FTP and TAP are the difference between sorrow and happiness.

It’s very simple.

30 refers to 30 seconds.

FTP is Fail To Pause.

TAP is Take A Pause (courtesy a satsangi).

There are so many scenarios in day to day life that we come across, where we say or do things that we come to regret later on. It could be an uncontrolled burst of emotion, an angry retort to a loved one or friend or boss (these could be the same person šŸ˜‚), a hasty decision, or just a lazy and unnecessary comment about someone or something.

A 30 second pause will not delay our life. But if it prevents us from saying or doing soemthing reckless, it can surely improve it.

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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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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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5/25

Ace investor Warren Buffet’s personal pilot was Mike Flint. The latter once came to Mr. Buffet for some career prioritization advice.

What did he say? “Write down your top 25 goals. Now circle the top 5, and drop all the others.”

This is super advice, especially for someone like me, because I often have lengthy to-do lists, and keep worrying about not being able to achieve those things. More often than not, the pace of new items coming on to the list is much higher than the pace of things coming off it!

Why does the 25/5 rule help? Because it fairly estimates that each individual has certain limitations. Over the long run, it is difficult to achieve more than 3-5 large goals, and hence what goals 6 to 25 are, are not really goals, but more of distractions.

I try to use this even for day to day living, as it helps with minimalism. It could be for the things I need to get done in the next hour. Or in the next day. Or even while grocery shopping. If there’s a list of 25 items I think I need, do I really need all of them? Or can I make do with lesser, and order the rest in the next round? A good test of self-control.

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Kaizen

We discussed here before the benefits of doing things small, rather than larger-than-life. Instead of having insane unachievable new year resolutions, just taking it step by step, but being consistent with it, is likely to yield far better results.

There’s a Japanese term called Kaizen, and maybe you’ve come across it before. The term refers to ‘taking small steps for continual improvement’. It is such a revolutionary yet simple idea, because the small steps make it sustainable, and the consistency compounds over time.

As James Clear beautifully puts it in his book Atomic Habits, 1% worse every day over a year, is (0.99)^365 = 0.03, whereas 1% better everyday is (1.01)^365 = 37.78. What a difference consistency makes!

Robert Maurer in The Kaizen Way talks of 6 simple strategies that can bring about big changes in a our lives over time.
1. Asking small questions.
2. Thinking small thoughts.
3. Taking small actions.
4. Solving small problems.
5. Giving small rewards.
6. Recognizing small moments.

Not how the common word is ‘small’. Big changes often only trigger subconscious fears in our brains, and these end up hampering our progress. Instead of asking “How can I be successful in my career?”, we could ask “What can I do today at my work, that is an improvement over yesterday?” Same for relationships. Asked and acted upon consistently, you can see how career-success and relationship-success will come naturally, eventually!

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Drive through

The Gita says that each one of us has had multiple births in the past. Millions, billions, I don’t know, maybe countless births. The soul keeps changing from one body to the next. Probably once an ant, to once a deer to once a human being and so on. It also adds that attaining liberation is possible via a human birth alone – because only in this birth do we have the ability and capacity to understand what liberation really means and takes. In all these births, we have in one way or another been associated with all the people around us. In one, today’s sister may have been an uncle. In another, today’s uncle may have been a grand-daughter, and so on.

This is somewhat like an experience most people who love to drive would have had, especially long distance. More often than not, on short patches of maybe 50 kilometres, we will find another vehicle that drives at nearly the same speed, and maintain a temporary unsaid relationship. Navigating through the same traffic, passing the same slow cars in equal frustration (followed by relief), once taking the lead, once falling behind, almost having a mini unarticulated drag race. You know it’s nothing, yet the feeling of a duel is palpable, even if only to yourself and the other driver, while all other passengers are blissfully unaware. And then one car, either yours or theirs, needs to make a pit stop – to buy water, to drink some chai, to have a bite, to fill some petrol, or just take another path. And the race is over, almost abruptly. Only to be resumed a few kilometres later, but this time with another vehicle. And another after that, and another. The cycle repeats ad infinitum. Until the journey itself comes to an end, i.e. liberation.

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Over and over

A question arises, “Why should I keep doing the same things over and over?” Why read our scriptures daily. If we’ve read it once, that should be enough no? Or why participate in satsang as many times as possible? Why not just listen to one lecture once and then implement and chill?

Marcel Proust, one of the greatest French authors of the 20th century said “”The real voyage of discovery consists, not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

As the story goes, a child asked his grandpa why he was repeatedly reading the Gita. To which grandpa asked the child to fetch water from the nearby river, but in a basket. The child did as instructed, but obviously much of the water leaked out through the gaps in the basket. The grandpa asked the child to go and get water, again and again, and each time most of the water had leaked out. Finally, when the child was frustrated, the grandpa asked his grandson to look at the basket closely. This child remarked, “Wow, the the basket has now got cleaned so nicely!”, exactly like how the mind would need to be cleaned by multiple readings.

My Guru follows this principle very closely, and takes it a step further – adding that reading alone is not enough, but acting upon the lessons learned is critical. Like the Chinese philosopher Confucius once said. “I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand”.

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Time and tide

Apparently there are some 3 billion Gods in Hinduism. There is a God for everything. For getting pregnant, for money, for status – even for getting a visa to work abroad! Having so many Gods allows the religion to be very flexible. If you believe one thing over another, then you can just switch to another God who’s rules and regulations align better to your thought process, nay current requirements.

One God though, that presides over all, is Maha Kaal. He is considered to be Lord Shiva, and also a personification of Time itself, kaal meaning time.

When we’re on the last day of work before a two week vacation, that particular day in the office will just seem to crawl by annoyingly slowly. When we’re in the vacation itself though, the days will seem to slip by agonizingly quickly. “What? It’s the fifth day of our beach vacation already? We need to head back soon, oh no.”

There is a lot to learn from Time In the above all-too-familiar examples, we know that time itself never changed. Only our perceptions of it moved around. We know this, but still struggle with time management. It seems like there is never enough time. But as Maha Kaal will tell us, the speed of Time remains unchanged, only our mind believes so. What can we do?

We can start by acknowledging this truth. That there will never be enough time for doing everything. But there will certainly be enough time for all your priorities. Prioritization makes all the difference.

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Take more stress

The things we are stressed about:

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

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

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

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By the second

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

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

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

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

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

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Taking a break

At least in India, the concept of a sabbatical is practically unknown. The workhorses that most people here tend to be, coupled with the social stigma of being jobless, ensures neither employer nor employee ever considers it. But as is we well know, workplace stress is rampant.

Refreshing then, was to know about Swanand Kelkar, Managing Director at Morgan Stanley, who decided to take 2020 off (yes the whole year!) to pursue his interests. In an interview, he explains how he was enamoured by a concept called time billionaire. We all want to be money-billionaires, but the scarcest resource any of us has is time. If we had enough time to do anything we wanted (i.e. no office, no deadlines, no 7 am Monday morning blues) then what would we do? He decided to use the one year to attempt 10 different interest areas like professional cooking, yoga certification in Sivananda Ashram in Madurai, book writing, dancing and other things that he would have otherwise never ventured into. Engaging the expertise of stalwarts in these respective fields, he set about using a month each pursuing his interests. He says he also benefitted from interacting with people in such diverse fields bringing myriad viewpoints compared to meeting the same people daily at work.

My own experience of a short break – to dabble in gaining a few new skills – some years ago in between jobs was fruitful, but perhaps not as well structured. I can however vouch for how much the gains can be – far outweighing the benefit of just staying stuck in the same job for those 12 months.

Of course not everyone can take a sabbatical at will. Some may have just joined a new organization, or their employer may not be sabbatical-friendly, or one may not have money saved up to ride out the non-earning period. In these cases, some planning will be necessary. However, at the end of the day, sabbatical / vacation / break etc. are all just ways to gain some mental peace (maybe using up-skilling as a means). The Prime Minister of India has not taken a holiday in 30 years at least, and neither has my Guru. They are both working at peak efficiency, the former in his 70s and the latter in his 80s. I have much to learn from them.

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Ro ro

According to Google Maps, the drive time from Mumbai to weekend destination Alibaug is just 2 hours and 15 minutes. But anyone who’s taking the road would know of its pitiable condition, easily doubling the drive time to four and a half hours.

The government has come up with an amazing solution. Have a ferry that not only transports people but also cars. It’s called the Ro-Ro for roll-on roll-off. Having taken it a couple of times, I can vouch for its awesomeness. The travel time between Mumbai and Alibaug is reduced to about 50 minutes, car in tow.

What was really amazing though, was the punctuality. All the more so as these are not expected of public services. This was surely different. At 12.30 sharp and as indicated on their website, the ferry set off from the harbor. And at 1.20, it docked into the Mandwa pier.

We all know that there is nothing more valuable than time. If there is someone who values your time, that garners immense respect. Even simple things like being on time for a meeting (increasingly online now), are often taken for granted. Unlike money, time lost cannot be regained. Time to roll-off the time wasters and roll-on the time-spinners.

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Birthday of the truly timeless

Today marks Guru Nanak Jayanti. It is perhaps the most sacred festival in Sikhism. It commemorates the birth of the first Sikh Guru, Guru Nanak. During most of my childhood and youth, I would consider this birthday just another blessing – thanks to the additional holiday each year. But having read about Guru Nanak’s life and teachings in the book Ten Companions of God by J.P Vaswani, there are a lot of lessons for me to learn from.

Initially started as an offshoot of Hinduism, many core principles in Sikhism remain intact. The focus is on service, to humanity as a whole, and specifically to those in need. The underlying belief that the Supreme is One, is also similar. Many Sikhs greet each other by saying “Sat Sri Akal”. Sat is the Truth. Not like a spoken truth/lie, but referring to the only changeless Truth. Sri confers respect on Kal. And Kal refers to time, and a-Kal is the timeless. Thus there is only one True Timeless permanent fixture (aka God), and that is what Sikhs remember, when they greet each other.

There are 3 outstanding tenets Guru Nanak preached.

  1. Vand chako – Share whatever we have, and always be in the service of others
  2. Kirat karo – Be duty bound, work hard and and earn an honest living
  3. Naam japo – Meditate on God

So simple, yet so profound.

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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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