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Of role play and authenticity

Every time I play a role in a given situation, I add a bit of inauthenticity it without actually being aware of it. In fact, on most occasions, I wouldn’t be even aware of this dichotomy within. A raised voice versus a subdued one or a heightened feeling of responsibility or a total lack of ownership.

Image source: Avalonchurch.org

Let me give you an example. I go into the store to buy something and suddenly out of nowhere a sense of entitlement sparks up within. I want to be served, because I am paying. Or I go with my family to a restaurant and order food. There is a delay, and my decibel level goes up and the hapless person bringing the food is at the receiving end.

This happens because we carry a bagful of expectations attached to these roles. As a father, I need to be the provider for my family. As a leader, I need to appear strong and invulnerable. As a subordinate, I have to become the subservient. Because my role demands it. Where is the authenticity here?

And the irony of it is that each time we play a role, we force another role on the person outside. So, as a leader I make others into my followers. As a teacher, I give the role of student to those in my class, without really caring whether the students are five or fifty years old. As a therapist, I attribute the role of patient to those who walk in through the door of my clinic.

All of these are unequal relationships that generate inauthentic responses from either or often both parties. The student who is attentive in class goes out and throws insults at the teacher he doesn’t like. So, I am either the father (or mother) figure or a distant observer. Never on an equal footing.

Why? Because that’s the only way I know to become aware of my existence – through my ego self. The one which believes I am my role. However, nothing can be farther from the reality.

I became a father when my daughter was born and continued in that role when my son arrived. Now, I need to ask my self this question. Do I become a father only because of my two children or can I dissociate them from role and associate every child in that same relationship? If I reach that level, would nepotism be relevant anymore?

So, the question is can I play the role at a universal level or can I discard the expectations or at least change them from time to time? Because, if I cannot do either, I could end up creating inauthentic relationships that impact my desire for a healthy life and joyful living.

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My Journey Isn’t Your’s

I came across a story about Gautama, the Buddha. During his wide travels spreading the message of Dhamma, the master chanced upon a young man who arrived early for his talks. Finding the Buddha alone, he sidled up and asked if it was okay to ask a question, as he was shy of doing so in a crowd.

Who’s Driving Your Bus?

The ever-compassionate Buddha complied and the student said thus: “You are teaching us techniques and giving us tools to find Nirvana. Now, I want to know why you aren’t using your own achievements as the liberated one to work the miracle and liberate us? Because you also know how tough it is for the rest of us to be like you. So, help us please.”

Buddha smiled and said, “Let’s try right away. But, before that I want to know if you belong to this place?” The man answered in the affirmative. He said he belonged to Bangalore (purely as an e.g.). Now, the master asked, “So you are from this place only, not having roots elsewhere?” To this the man said, “No, no, I am from Palakkad in Kerala, and I still have interests there.”

The conversation continued: “So, you would be traveling to that place quite regularly, isn’t it? Do you know the route from Bangalore to Palakkad well,” asked the Buddha. “Of course master, I know it well enough as I travel once or twice a month. See, I can tell you the route: You head out of home, reach MG Road and get on to Hosur Road. Drive on till Krishnagiri on that road and then take a right turn and go straight on till Salem. At Salem, you take a right to the road leading to Coimbatore and once you cross this city, you enter Palakkad. See, I am well-versed with this path.

“I am sure that you love this place a lot and would have taken many of your friends from Bangalore to Palakkad,” the enlightened one said. “Of course, I have and they all loved the place,” said the man, now wondering where this conversation was going.

Which means your friends would also know Palakkad as well as you do, right? the Buddha asked, to which the man said, “Of course not! When they came with me, I led the way. How will they know the route if they don’t make the journey on their own?” he asked with a tinge of exasperation.

“Precisely my friend,” Buddha said, “all I can do is take you on my journey but if you require true salvation, you need to follow your journey. And the tools and techniques that I share would only help you navigate your course. So, even if I miraculously take you to my destination, you may realise that it was not where you wanted to go.”

A true teacher is one who walks along and not ahead of the pupil. And a true follower is one who follows their instinct after accumulating what they learnt from others’ journeys.

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Finding the Right App Within

Smartphones have been our companions for more than a decade-and-half and yet, none of us can justifiably claim that we know the different devices we may have owned during this period inside out. Why so? Because there’s only that much of it that we need to get through our days.

External Recommendations versus Internal Awareness

This is exactly how we deal with our own internal resources. There are any number of such resources within us, quietly biding time till…? Well, barring a few internal resources that we use all the time, there are any number that exist deep within us, waiting to be called upon to help us – maybe overcome a challenge or tide us through a tough phase.

Internal resources such as humour, creativity, energy, enthusiasm, patience, self-esteem, empathy, equanimity, trust, freedom and many more have been part of our existence from birth. Unaware of their existence, we seek these virtues outside of us, just like we keep adding more apps to our phones in the hope that the additional ones would be of more use than existing ones.

However, the irony is that each time we look outwards for a new resource, we push our existing ones a step down in our awareness. And then blame it on factors outside if we get impatient, or miss the humour or the creativity that might generate better outcomes to life’s challenges than a dogmatic response did.

Hark back to your childhood for a moment and recall events where you used these internal resources in abundance and to telling effect. How did you convince mom to feed you an extra chocolate or get dad to pay up for that excursion that you called a study tour? And yet, now these same resources seem distant. We look outside of us to rekindle these resources. Or seek outside help to resolve challenges that we were adept at doing.

And what causes this amnesia? Quite simply our nature our looking outside of us for solutions. We keep collecting apps from Play Store and seldom use it after the first few attempts. Our resources too are lying unused because our attention gets diverted to the new magic solution that smart advertisers promote regularly.

Each one of us is born with the power of the unconscious – the thread which ties all of us to Universal Source of Power. Looking for more power outside is what reduces the power within. Or I should say reduces our attention to the power within. Have a blessed day!

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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 

Image courtesy: inc.com

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. 

(Image Source: yourcoachlondon.com

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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