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Being Compassionate with Oneself

The current situation that we are all going through makes most of us feel anxious and uncertain. Not surprising, given that none of us has ever faced such a situation in our lives. The answer lies in being compassionate with oneself.

Wave after wave rushing in, crashes and returns to the depths

On a recent visit to the seaside, I found myself standing on the shores, marvelling at the monotonous regularity with which waves came in and receded. They made way for the next wave, and the next, each following exactly the same pattern. For a crazy moment, I wondered how I would feel being a wave?

I closed my eyes and imagined myself originating from the depths of the ocean, rising to the top in some quest, only to reach the shore and break. Crash into it, in fact, and losing my energy in the process and silently receding to the very depths that I came from. I felt a heaviness in my chest and a tightening of the stomach. What sort of a life is this? Wave after wave gets formed, only to crash into nothingness.

I thought of my own existence and became aware of how all anxieties and pains were episodes in this journey. I am born, grow up and gather speed to reach the top. However, like that wave, I rush towards the shore, only to crash and then recede into the nothingness from which I emerged. That tightening of the chest and stomach returned.

Having spent a few moments, I came back to my room, more confused. Was life so predictable? If so, what’s the point of it all? The heaviness in my chest stayed on and I allowed it to do so. Slowly I opened a book of Sufi quotes and came across one from the 13th century poet Jalaluddin Rumi:

“You’re not a drop in the ocean; You’re the entire ocean in a drop.”

I read and re-read it a few times and felt the heaviness slowly vanish and the tightness in the stomach giving way to an ease. Staying on with it, I wondered thus: Why should I see myself as a wave when my true identity is that of the ocean? For, if there is no ocean, there wouldn’t be a wave. And without the waves, there would be no ocean.

So long as I exist in my current form, there will be episodes in the journey that alternate between pleasure or pain as I go inexorably towards the shore. The impermanence of it all dawned and my feeling of ease deepened.

Advaita (non-duality) Explained

Do I really need to put pressure on myself each and every time a painful situation came up? For, these situations are so much more impermanent than my life itself.

Because I am as much the ocean as the wave.

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Happiness and Achievement

If happiness is only about winning or achieving a desired outcome, it would become very momentary and largely ineffective

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal – Two modern tennis greats
whose on-court duels are as legendary as their off-court camaraderie

As a person who played active sports, I remember all the encounters that resulted in a victory. Quite a natural feeling, given that we all play to win. What surprised me though is that even matches where we lost there was only a momentary angst that was followed by exhilaration at the thought of having played that game. 

At first I thought it was just me and my fantasy. When I spoke to some of my old chums who were part of these games, they said even they’d felt the same way – then and even now when they recall the matches. I couldn’t put a finger on what made all of us feel the same way, least of all me as I was always a very angry competitor. 

Where did all that anger go once the game got over? Quite simply, it went no where because it didn’t exist deep down. The desire to do well was a burning one. Yet, losing only reinvigorated the desire. Never did it result in rancour towards the winners. It was a resolve to do better the next time that brought back that anger energy again. 

As I harked back to my sporting wins and loses, I also became aware that the excitement at participating was paramount. Just because the outcome didn’t match with my expectation, doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the journey. 

कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन ।

मा कर्मफलहेतुर्भुर्मा ते संगोऽस्त्वकर्मणि ॥

— Bhagavad Gita, Ch:2, Verse 47
A Call to Glorious Action

And, the meaning of these lines from the Bhagavad Gita’s became that bit more clearer.

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Teaching and Touching Lives

The teacher starts touching lives once they step down from their own high pedestals 

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My friend Leo often says that a teacher is one who touches lives. And each time I wonder what it means and how is it that I hardly remember many of my teachers. And the one I do was amongst the most reticent teachers that I could recall. 

This lady in question was a spinster, extremely strict and super stingy with the marks she would give. And yet, I remember her fondly, just for one incident. She was laughing uncontrollably while listening to my essay on a bus journey that was anecdotal and not as per the format that she had suggested. Once I finished reading, she stood up and told me, “Your courage to step out of the box will help you.” 

When I hark back to this incident, I still get goose bumps. Not because I received praise or didn’t get punished. I realised that a good teacher is one who allows her wards to go beyond her realm – to explore their own boundaries without getting tied down by rules or norms. 

And to do so, she needs to let go of the teacher-pupil mindset. The equation is one of two individuals and not of a preacher and preached to. That’s when I realised that a good teacher is one who protects the student from her own influence. 

And that’s how she touched my life, and continues to do so even four decades after the incident I narrated. 

The only way a teacher can become a facilitator is when she or he takes the journey alongside the student. 

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About marketing oneself

A marketing lesson I learnt early on was this: A good sales person can sell a refrigerator to an eskimo. For most of my corporate life, this had a profound impact as I was continuously looking for ways and means to sell a service or a product or even my resume. 

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Even as an executive coach, I had trained myself to observe behaviour traits that could serve as an opening gambit in my sales pitch – be it an individual or someone in the corporate hierarchy who could provide me with gainful employment. 

The more I made an effort, the farther the goal appeared to go. It was as if my hard sell approach was making it harder for my interlocutor to trust my abilities. Don’t be surprised – isn’t this what all advertisements do for us? They sell us something that we probably can live without. 

What broke this pattern was a meeting with an 82-year-old who was to teach me a new skill. Being from a corporate world, I expected to see a person in a nicely ironed trousers and shirt, if not a suit and tie. Instead I saw a man dressed in his pyjamas and a casual shirt walk in. What I did notice though were a pair of crystal blue eyes that was piercing and compassionate at the same time. 

What happened to me over the next 10 days is beyond description. As if by sheer magic, my life journey suddenly shifted from the outward to the inward – that was the power of Dr. Richard McHugh – the man who started each of our journeys with NLP. 

A journey where appearances matter the least and it is okay to be who I am.

Because, there is no way I can pretend to be another.

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Of outcomes and anxieties

Being hardwired to outcomes, we often miss out the process involved in achieving them. 

When I started my tryst with making videos, there was a perpetual feeling of anxiety of getting it right. I have to look at the camera, my attire has to be presentable, I must not stammer and forgetting my lines makes me look like an idiot. There’s a shadow under my nose! 

For a long time, my energies were focused on getting it right. Till one day, I asked myself, what exactly is RIGHT? At best they are opinions. Driven by context and always subjective. This proved a big liberator for me as I began focusing on the moment. 

Telling myself all the while. I am learning a new skill. So what, if none of the parameters are right. Let me just enjoy the moment, making all possible mistakes. For, what’s the worse that can happen? I may end up shooting the video again. 

And so it was that I made friends with my own anxiety. Because it was this anxiety made me aware of my ego self – a need for approval from those around me as a means to happiness. Today I feel happy that I am making these videos. Safe in the belief that I am enjoying the process of its making and not bogged down by the outcomes. 

Because the outcome isn’t about a good video itself. It is about all the good words that I come to expect from those watching it. 

And that was precisely what made me anxious.

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Men Are Men Because of Women

A good friend went through a harrowing experience on the streets of Bangalore recently where she received unsolicited attention from a biker who probably thought that a single woman romancing the rain was in need for support or attention. In her anguished post on a social platform, my friend stated the obvious and wondered whether it was too much to expect safety and security for women from the males of our species.

This got me thinking. What makes the males assume a privileged position in the world? Is it because they’re stronger physically? Which begs the question whether this was so even in the stone ages? Or how is it that only among homo sapiens this is so? We don’t see this difference in the animals, do we? A Lion and a Lioness are physically on par, which probably explains why the males in other mammals refrain for forcing their sexual attentions on the females of their species. They could get their balls bitten off, if they tried!

No, it is just not about strength alone, though the males often display it to have their way with the females. I think it is more about how the man is nurtured by the woman in childhood. The mother, especially in the Indian context, creates an inequal playing field at home where the boy is made to feel special. Soon enough he starts feeling privileged, because his own mother (a woman) makes him feel so. With this feeling when he goes out in the world, he believes that he just has to ask, and he’d get.

In my own home, I saw a different scene play out as a child. My dad worked with the government and so did my mother, who happened to be a post-graduate in Economics from the 1940s. So, she was as much the breadwinner of the family as dad, who wouldn’t think twice before cooking lunch in the morning for the three of us, even as my mom would hand me the mop to clean the house. She was the first to leave home at 7.30 AM followed by me at 8.30 AM and dad at 9.00 AM.

In the evenings, I would be the first one home. As a 10-year-old, I had the task of cleaning the house (second round), folding the washed clothes and even cutting veggies if there was a note to that effect on the fridge. My mom was home next and she’d go about making dinner and once dad was home it was family time. No television as there wasn’t anything to watch barring on Wednesdays (Chitrahaar) and Sundays (movie). Since my mom gave me this important lesson in life, I never ever came to feel any level of privilege over the opposite gender.

During my thirty years of marriage, I was as much the cook and maid as my wife was the bread-winner. Our roles changed based on ground zero circumstances and was never ever linked to our gender. And today, my two children have grown up with equal privileges where my son makes excellent pizzas and my daughter cooks when she feels like. There is nothing that they “have to do” because the gender relates to it. They do so as a responsiblity to the unit that is called family.

So, where do things go wrong? In my experiments with psychology and Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), I have realised that the human species has both masculine and feminine traits in them. Somehow our society makes us believe that these qualities are gender-specific. So, a man cannot cry and a woman cannot scream! To bubble up one side of the behavior the other needs to be suppressed.

Nothing could be more specious than this argument.

Because, as humans we have  behaviour polarities. And, these need to be celebrated, not baulked at. Every feeling that arises within us is of immense value as it helps us go through various situations in life. By making a female believe that anger isn’t good, the parents could be indirectly responsible for her falling prey to sexual abuse.

The only way to make my friend’s dream come true is to catch ’em young. Explain the ways of nature and let them grow beyond the introjections from the family and society.

Give them a chance to individuate for that’s the only way a healthy society can be created.

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