An Equal Music….


“…….no noise nor silence, but one equal music; 
no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession; 
no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity….”

                                           
   – John Donne, English Poet and Preacher, 17th Century

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My earliest memories of Shanti kaku is of him slowly limping back home with a bag carrying some basic groceries.

 Since the time I could remember Shanti kaku had always been around, doing odd errands for all and sundry. He was the youngest of seven surviving children of my paternal grand parents. It was rumoured that his birth had been complicated because of a forceps delivery process gone horribly wrong. It led to him coming into the world challenged, both mentally and physically.

 Shanti kaku survived. Only to suffer the ignominy and arrows of being unequal, different, even retarded. I have sometimes wondered how this unfortunate uncle of mine made peace with these demons. Or did he really need to? Could it just be that what he saw of the world and people around him was normal to him, what he had experienced from the time he could remember? Without the consciousness of ‘what could have been’, he had nothing to compare his experience with, nothing to feel bad about.

  All the other aunts and uncles went to school, some then to college. My grand parents tried to send Shanti kaku to school but faced rejection. Not having the benefit of psychiatric support nor any special needs school in those days, there remained no other option but for Shanti kaku to  continue  his frugal education at home. Sitting, lying beside his mother, listening to her relating the grand tales of Ramayana and Mahabharata.

 Slowly but surely, Shanti kaku started to fathom what my grandmother really wanted. In his own special way, in a way quite different from his siblings who were growing up with their own dreams and destinies. He instinctively knew that what his mother desired, beyond most things, was to see him happy. Was this a primal connection driven back to the womb?

Time passed and brought change, as it inevitably does. Change in the situation of my father and the “normal” aunts and uncles who settled down into their own lives and families. Change in the feelings and attitude towards their youngest sibling which shifted from being “different” to being a “burden.” Come to think of it, burden is such an interesting word. A word loaded with different meanings allowing the user to at once demean the other person and highlight one’s own inability towards taking responsibility. What remained changeless was Shanti kaku’s situation and his connection to my grandmother. Shanti kaku remained what he was, where he was. As he continued to do the menial chores which he was asked to.

 It was my final school leaving year. In fact, it was during my Board examinations when my Grandmother, then in her eighties and staying with us, became seriously ill, destined not to recover. For sometime her health had been failing, that time honoured twinkle in her eyes fading. But as she lay dying, one could but hardly avoid noticing how she held on and lingered as her last remaining purpose in life, that “different” child, sat beside her.

 After all these decades, I can still recall that early morning when my grandmother passed away. Amongst all the sound of preparations to take the body for cremation and folks coming to pay their last respects, there remained that low pitched moan from the room of the deceased. It emanated from Shanti kaku as he alone held onto his mother’s hand.

It seemed disturbingly like music of a past trying to equal and come to terms with that of an uncertain future. Full of sadness, tiredness and the irrelevance of it all To my teenage mind however, obsessed as it was with success in examinations and the promise of a hopeful tomorrow, it evoked intolerance and impatience.

 Today, decades later, as I stand in that tomorrow I have created, and look back, what do I see? What I see are moments of happiness I have enjoyed, moments of energy as I followed my passion, moments of the relevance I have had in the world. Why then does the music of my actions and words search for its equal in a future that continues to be elusive? I wonder.

 

In Learning………………………                                                    Shakti Ghosal

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My Bad is stronger than my Good.


“I’m an accumulation of every single thing I’ve done, good and bad.”

                                           David Millar, Scottish Road racing cyclist champion

 

Morals preach at me, “Love thy neighbour…… Do Good unto others…” I stand brainwashed to believe that Paradise beckons as I align my thoughts and actions to the goodness of my values.

Millennia of Religion and philosophy have depicted human life as that eternal conflict between the Good and Bad. The Goodness of Creation and Harmony ranged against the Badness of Destruction and Chaos. As I look down from the metaphysical level, I recall ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ amongst the earliest words I learnt as a child. All my fairy tales and comic books dealt with the likes of Krishna vs. Kanksh, Superman vs. Lex Lothar et al. I go through life and see my ‘Bad ‘instincts of jealousy and fear battle against the ‘Good’ strivings of my intentions and fulfillment.

I surf the news channels and notice how much thoroughly ‘Bad’ and negative information is investigated and followed through as compared to ‘Good’ and positive developments. Almost as if we are waiting to imbibe and carry away all the bad impressions and stereotypes. Could it be that we get attracted and these are quicker to form within us?

My colleague wins a lottery and feels elated. The euphoria however scarcely lasts for a couple of days and I can sense that the feel good level quickly returns to what it had been before the lottery win. The same person however gets into a prolonged bout of unhappiness and blame game when he incurs a loss in the stock market, a fraction of what he had won.

I remain witness to how a loving relationship between my friend and his spouse so easily degenerates into a break-up from a single anger-driven destructive action. Several positive overtures and communications fail to heal the rupture.

As I drive on the crowded roads, I become enraged from a single case of rash driving. As I leave the scene fuming, I scarcely notice the multitude of folks who give way and allow me to pass. My emotions can scarcely be quelled, be it by such good behaviour or kindness. The ‘bad’ memory remains vivid and I continue to rant about it on the dinner table, hours later.

As I go through life, do I see a Bad Good asymmetry? A negative bias towards Bad. Be it in the reports in media and in everyday events as above…

I look inwards and sense that I too am more motivated to avoid bad self perceptions than to pursue good ones. I muse and wonder why this is so. Could this be because ‘Bad’ signals that I need to change? And does my ‘Bad’ intuitively push me to adapt and change myself in line with a situation or environment? So does ‘Bad’ condition me to become more flexible and adaptive to an ever-changing world? Is this why my Bad is stronger and thus more relevant than my Good?

What if……..


If thought is the fabric from which reality is made, then faith and intention become the mechanisms by which we focus and project thought.

                                                                                                              – Anonymous

What if we were spirits, balls of energy?  What if prior to being born, we could choose the Men and Women who would conceive us and help us with our values and beliefs? What if we could meet up with all the other spirits who would also be born to play enabling roles in our future life? What if we could choose our destiny?

What if…..

Grounded back to our reality, we see “What if….” as the yearnings of a meandering soul. Or a delusionary dream that needs to be closeted in the attics of our minds. But what if we did carry a master blueprint containing all our yearnings somewhere in our DNAs? Or what if the dream did have moorings in our wakefulness?

I see two pathways. One arising out of faith and the other from our intention. Which path to follow becomes our choice.

Our faith leads us to the realms of spirituality .We conjecture that situations do not happen randomly nor people come into our lives by chance. As we move through this maze of situations and people, we can choose to see our life journey as a blueprint ordained by a higher purpose. With this choice comes the realisation that the reason we are here is to heal our beliefs, learn from them and not to master and forcibly change them. Such a perspective does allow us to make peace with areas of our life which we find confusing and out of control.

But were we to move on the pathway of intention, we can choose to see our life as something we create and are responsible for. This becomes the essence. As we step out with positive intentions to make a choice, we start understanding the underlying reasons why we fail to do so on many occasions.

I get reminded of that wonderful Arbinger Institute publication, “Leadership and Self Deception: Getting out of the box”. While the book focuses on leadership in the organisational context, its argument applies in our life situation too. The book states that people respond to “how we feel about them” and not because “how we treat them.” Let us halt here and absorb the import of what is being said. “Feeling inside” has far greater impact than “action outside.” The genuineness, or otherwise, of what our true feelings or thoughts are, seeps out irrespective how or what we show on the outside.

We “get into the box” as we allow our lives to be dominated by our insecurities and start projecting our failures on to others to try and protect ourselves from our own reality. This then becomes our strategy of self deception and “keeps us trapped inside the box”, away from the truth of our attitude towards others and its crippling impact on our relationships.

As an example, if you are in an abusive relationship, this could be due to your belief that you are unloved. If you believe you are unlovable, you will attract those ‘into the box” who can help you to demonstrate this belief because you have it, not because it is the truth. Abuse is one way that this belief can be played out.

But intention does allow us to choose to become the observer of our beliefs and changing them once they are no longer working for us. And as we change ourselves inside, what we attract on the outside also changes. And this becomes our pathway to move “out of the box.”

So, do we move on the faith path as we reconcile and make peace with our troubling beliefs and other aspects of life? Or do we follow our intentions as we face failure and turbulence in our efforts to implant new beliefs and a life change?

What if….. we could make this choice?

In Learning………                                                                                                  Shakti Ghosal

Acknowledgement:

* Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box – An Arbinger Institute publication, 2008.

Childhood’s End?


It is not easy to see how the more extreme forms of nationalism can long survive when men have seen the Earth in its true perspective as a single small globe against the stars.

                                                                                                               Arthur C. Clarke, 1951

It has been a year since what has come to be known as the ‘Arab Spring’ came into being. In this period it has rolled through much of the Arab world, scalped four long standing state heads and led to protests and uprisings all over. A plethora of analysis to explain “Why there? Who is behind? What now?” has kept pace.

Explanations have ranged from Facebook, Twitter instigated unrest to rupturing of socio-economic systems dominated by authoritarian regimes. From crony capitalism to delayed maturing of civil society. From exposure to western thoughts to the rising aspiration of an increasingly literate and assertive youth.

The other day I was chatting with Abdul Rashid, an Arab holding a secure and well paying job. And he offered an interesting perspective. He spoke of a father dominated family structure. Of how the father loves his child and takes care of all his basic needs. But in return, he expects unquestioning obedience. Of how, as the child grows up and tries to follow his passion, he gets restrained in case he does not follow traditions. Abdul posed a question, “What solution would you suggest in case the child has to contend with such restraint for the rest of his life?”

The above set me thinking. If the child is being loved and taken care of, why does he feel restrained? And what factors are feeding his perception of restraint? My thoughts veered to the opening sequence of the Arthur Clarke penned Childhood’s End inspired movie, “2001: A Space odyssey”. Of how a futuristic monolith and its flickering images guide a tribe of prehistoric ape men to become discontented with their existing situation and aspire for a better tomorrow. A fascinating story of the origins of Man…. and his discontentment.

And as I ponder about the Arab spring, what do I see? An equation of the Ruler and the Ruled spanning decades which worked till now. A relationship which dictated that the Ruler “father figure” would love and take care of his “Ruled children” through huge welfare systems and sops. In return the latter would keep their side of the bargain by not demanding for uncomfortable freedoms like self expression and self governance. Unfortunately the equation and the relationship it harboured seem to be breaking down.

So what really happened? I believe Globalisation has turned into today’s monolith to show and reinforce images of “What could be” to one and all on this planet. Folks whose lower levers of motivation viz, food, shelter and money needs have already been taken care of, can now see tantalising visions of self actualisation and self esteem. And so we have Abdul above, with a secure job and lifestyle, hankering to follow his “passion” of self determination and self expression.

Could this be the moment when the Arab spring child grows out of childhood to reclaim his destiny? As he seeks more ownership in Governance and policy making? As he joins the global mainstream and political consciousness?

In Learning…….                                                                             Shakti Ghosal

We vs. Them


“One day our descendants will think it incredible that we paid so much attention to things like the amount of melanin in our skin or the shape of our eyes or our gender instead of the unique identities of each of us as complex human beings.” 

                                                                                               ~Franklin Thomas, 1964 AD

On the screen, I hear the father of slain Indian student Anuj Bidve speak, “The world is finished for us – that is all I can say,” Anuj, a post graduate student , had been shot in the head  by a man describing himself as “Psycho Stapleton” in Manchester in a mindless act of violence. Seeing the old parents forlornly trying to cope with the loss of their only child, an indescribable feeling of sadness engulfs me.

The incident is being described as a Race attack. One of the many similar attacks that have plagued newly arrived immigrants and students in the UK, US, Australia over the years. Many reasons are up for debate. Is this an anger against new residents getting access to “scarce” resources which otherwise was the prerogative of the old community? Are these attacks a sign of increasingly disaffected youth with limited work and employment opportunities? Are these problems temporary and would “go away” once the incoming folks integrate with the community at large? Was the victim at the wrong place at the wrong time? There is much talk regarding strategies needed to reduce such race attacks through community development and deterrent police measures.

As I reflect, I wonder if these underlying beliefs about race attacks are not merely chasing the symptoms rather than trying to unearth the core cause. And if this be so, would the strategies being talked of be really effective?

What makes a person, without provocation, brutally attack and kill another fellow human? Is this from a distorted self image, itself a product of a distorted belief and need system? Or is it due to an egoistic self- centricity, a product of a selfish and materialistic world? To my mind, these aspects are responsible for much of the created sufferings in the world. These become the arrogant starting points that separate us from others. These make us feel that others are a threat and that the world is a hostile place. We get forced into undesirable behaviour – reacting to others’ words or actions. We end up needlessly competing, being envious or judgmental and feeling threatened by others’ successes.

So what can we do? I believe the strategy needs to start from within. We need to look inside, increase our self awareness. It is this awareness that aligns us with our inner values and brings lightness and a sense of purpose. It is in this space that our ego starts subsiding. Freeing us from that endless loop of Desire and Dissatisfaction, Freeing us from that eternal hunt and chase mindset.

“What is tolerance?  It is the consequence of humanity.  We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other’s folly – that is the first law of nature.”            

                                                                                                               –  Voltaire, 1764 AD

In Learning…………..                            Shakti Ghosal

Oh! To be still……..


The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

                                                                   Robert Frost, 1923.

                                                                             

We hurtle faster and faster. To keep pace with a changing world, a morphing society. To keep up with the Joneses. All around us are triggers to keep us in action. Project deadlines at the workplace. To do lists stuck on the refrigerator door. Management seminars extolling the virtues of proactive action and business initiatives. Weekly coaching sessions empowering us to move towards the rainbow of purpose and goals.

As I watch the TV screen, I find more prejudices against inaction. As protests and deaths in the country continue unabated,Syria is warned of inaction by the Arab league, Americans say that they just cannot have any further inaction by Washington as health insurance costs skyrocket. In India, Anna Hazare and his team accuse the Government of inaction to introduce a strong anti-corruption legislation.

Awhile back, I had read about a little known but interesting incident of the Second World War in which afterFrance’s surrender to the German forces in June 1940, a large part of the French navy positioned elsewhere at Gibraltar remained frozen in inaction and refused to follow the Allies instructions. Till they were bombed and fired upon by the British navy!

So is inaction always bad? And why do we sometimes freeze up and halt all action as the French naval commander had done?  I ponder as I try to find some answers. If action signifies moving forward towards light and a better future, does it imply that inaction means something backward and worse? Unfortunately, in today’s materialistic and achievement oriented world and society, this is the belief that stands constantly reinforced. So as we love to show our own “bias for action”, we lump all inaction with lethargy and vacuousness.

But does action always imply moving forward? Does it always demand achievement of discernible goals?  Our perception, fed on a diet of instant gratification, equates action to goal achievement. But does this not detract from the importance of the action steps, the empowerment of the action journey? And does this not lead us to judge the other person by results rather than the path he follows?

And what about inaction? Does it always signify the stillness of the unborn, the slowing down of atoms, the dissipation of energy?  What if there indeed be intrinsic positivity in the stillness of no action? In the Chinese Tao philosophy, wei wu wei means “action without action”. As we observe, we reflect. As we comprehend, we try to make sense of it all. As we strategise, we commit our intentions. Do we realise that goal achievement and critical perspective shifts usually flow from such moments of contemplative inaction?

I believe much of the world’s misconceptions arise due to a lack of understanding of what action truly signifies. And the news stories above underscore this point. So how do we differentiate between the inaction of no action and the stillness of “making sense of it all”?

Simply put, inaction occurs from a fear of the unknown, of leaving our comfort zone. From remaining stuck due to our underlying beliefs (UBs). So the sooner we get down to confronting our fears, unpacking the baggage of our UBs and letting them go, that much faster we regain our airy fairy childhood state of unhampered curiosity and motion.

But when we stand still to ‘make sense of it all”, we do not really choose to move. We seek instead the solace of something still, something changeless, something which will anchor us from the slippery slopes of uncertainty. Like a sheet of still water reflecting back and providing reassurance of our own inherent changelessness. As we visualise the road forward with intention to act and bring in the change.

So, as the world around us moves in an ever maddening whirl, do we retain the conviction to find the balance between the still and restful “woods” of our inner reflections and the “promises to keep’ of our societal actions? And the wonderment and pleasure of the “miles to go” journey itself?

In Learning……………

                                                                                                                                                                  Shakti Ghosal

21st December 2012


If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:

……………………..

…………………………

…………………………….

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son.

 

                                                                                                        Rudyard Kipling, 1895

   

Awhile back, a friend while commenting on an earlier blog, remarked, “I simply cannot stop wondering if this indeed is the beginning of the end of ‘Kali yug’ that the Hindu sages predicted many millennia back! Or for that matter, the 2012 ‘end of the world’ that the Mayans predicted around the same time? Can we really dismiss the two geographically so very distant people foreseeing the same future as ‘mere’ coincidence?” This bringing together of Hindu and Mayan prophesies I had found intriguing and had also recalled Nostradamus’ prediction about the end of the world.

The thought came back the other day as I sat reading about the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), that 27 Km long particle accelerator clicking away deep below the Franco Swiss border. And the underlying concerns that “earth would be destroyed and the galaxy gobbled up by an ever increasing black hole” as the LHC ramps up its operations and reaches its maximum power levels. Yet one more doomsday prediction.

What is it that has tempted Mankind through the ages to speculate on this end of the world theme? Has it been Man’s imagination going ballistic based on various apocalyptic events the world has faced? Or is it some other flaw in mental makeup?

Which brings me to that age-old tug of war within ourselves. We seek knowledge and at the same time avoid it. Our primal instincts conditioned us to make sense of the world around us as else there was always that fear of “what we do not know”. So we fit all we know into that “comfort space” which we have created and close our minds to uncomfortable facts that do not fit.

The doomsayers’ inherent belief is that in case everything does not fit into their prescribed paradigm, the world becomes unfixable and therefore doomed.  Theirs is a mindset of seeing all things in black and white. A perspective that stems from the same closing of minds to facts that do not fit, an underlying belief that what we know is really all that is there to know.

The doomsayers refuse to “see” the positivity, hope and initiative that abound all around us. They ignore any mid path there might be that the world can indeed be “saved” from the holocaust which they has consigned it to in their minds.

We may ridicule the above mindset but do we realise that we carry a bit of the doomsayers belief in each one us? A belief that surfaces when we try and stick to our old ways and resist change. When we wallow in a sea of negativity as we move with the crowd. When we block ourselves from empowerment and positive intentions. When we decide to wear someone else’s coloured glasses rather than be guided by our own core values. When we decide to live by others’ dreams and aspirations, not our own.

So, can we regain the conviction of our own selves to seek positivity and embrace change to inherit the Earth as Kipling’s Man? Or do we want to regress back to when the doomsayers believed the Earth was flat , and we could fall over the edge if we set forth to seek the unknown?

In Learning……………………………………..                                                                                                                                                                  Shakti Ghosal