Varanasi……. and the differing Realities


“Enlightenment, and the death which comes before it, is the primary business of Varanasi.”
Tahir Shah, author – Sorcerer’s Apprentice, 1998

If you are born in India, as I was, Varanasi, that immortal city of Lord Shiva and his consort Sati, slowly but surely becomes a part of your psyche.
Varanasi - that eternal city
My first visit to Varanasi with my mother continues to hold vivid memories for me even today. In my teens then, it was possibly the first time when I faced the confusion of how the same ground situation occurred so differently to my mother compared to me.

What occurred to me as narrow serpentine alleys, overcrowded and difficult to breathe places showed up as a delectable array of holy shrines, temples and ashrams to my mother.

What occurred for me as slippery, dirty steps to be avoided at all costs lest I fall into a smelly cesspool, showed up as venerable ‘ghats’ of the holy Ganga river, promising salvation and nirvana to my mother.

What showed up for me as a city bursting at its seams with the old and the dying, sickness, leprosy and burning funeral pyres, seemed to show up as life’s final destination and a passport to heaven for my mother.

As is the norm, come sunrise, I accompanied my mother for the holy dip in the Ganges. When we reached the ghat, the place was already thronging with hundreds of people, some already in the flowing waters, others taking an oil massage as a prelude to the dip. A motley crowd of beggars, tea sellers, urchins, saffron clad ‘sadhus’ and devotees jockeyed for space and spiritual advantage.
Sadhu at Sunrise

varanasi_main
My mother urged me, “Come, take a dip. Doing it is so holy, it would cleanse you of all your past sins.”

Now that was no doubt tempting. I could recall sins a plenty that I had committed over the last few months itself. But what held me back was the sight of raw sewage belching into the river with a dull roar. Not to speak of what appeared to be floating dead bodies and the vultures above. I had also heard sordid tales of unclaimed bodies, which no one came to cremate, being tied to a rock and sunk to the river bottom. I had this scary vision of stepping onto a body and being possessed by an angry spirit thereafter. The net result was that I refused to take that holy dip, much to my mother’s chagrin and embarrassment.

Varanasi-Ganges-Trash-400x300

Whenever I have mused about that visit subsequently, I have wondered what was it that created the almost diametrically opposite reality about Varanasi for my mother and me.

Coming as she did from an overly traditional, semi agrarian Bengali household in suburban Calcutta and growing up in a joint family, my mother imbibed strong elements of religious and ritualistic ‘Dos and Don’ts’ apart from a conditioning to not question the collective view and mindset. I suspect this is what would have made her take to Varanasi and its ethos like a fish takes to the water. For Varanasi is all about the occurring of a collective mind. That collective mind which through centuries and millennia, has read the Gita, quoted the Upanishads and chanted the vedic mantras on those very ghats.

I on the other hand, born and living in a nuclear family and receiving a liberal education, had very little exposure to the traditions, rituals and collective beliefs coming down the ages. So where my mother could selectively ‘see and tune into’ the devotional hymns, the fragrance of the incense and purity of the saffron colour all around her, I was left struggling to come to terms with the sludge and the floating trash, the smell of feces, the sickness and the poverty on physical display.

Today, when I look back to that Varanasi visit, I can see how the differing realities of the city effected us. My mother’s occurring of reality brought her great bliss and fulfillment. My occurring on the other hand brought in trepidation and doubt. I begin to realise how both the realities were illusions, anchored as they were to how the situations occurred to each one of us.

Like the above, do we see how most conflicts in society and the world can be traced back to the aspect of reality illusion? An illusion which makes us erroneously conclude that what shows up for us as a result of our own world view and frames of references is in fact the only reality and we refuse to accept any differing perspectives. Merely holding the awareness that differing realities can and do occur for each of us, and this is but normal, can lead to significant lowering of conflicts…….

“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” Albert Einstein

In Learning…….. Shakti Ghosal

How can I use my Context?


untitled

In my last post ‘My Context uses me’, I had dwelled on how my Context, that omnipresent meaning making machine in all my situations, uses me. How my context wields the power to put me on rails and makes me react in predictable failing ways. I was left wondering whether I could do something about shifting away from such almost certain failures.

The “Being a Leader” course, attended by me recently, revealed a pathway.

As we saw in the last post, our context does function as a cognitive lens, a filter so to speak, through which we view the world, others and interestingly, even our own selves. As we look at a situation, our context highlights some aspects, dims a few and even blanks out yet other aspects. So what makes up our context? It’s our Worldview and frame of reference for the situation at hand. It is our beliefs, biases, prejudices and assumptions which play a part in the context’s meaning making and filtering process.

Cognitive-Distortions-Skew-Your-Perceptions

Now let’s consider what constitutes our beliefs, biases, prejudices and assumptions. In a nutshell, it is our past experiences. Our brains are adept at using this past to create a default context which comes automatically with the situation at hand. This default context, coloured as it is by our past concerns and fears, restricts us and our actions. As the context is decisive, one can see the wisdom of the old French proverb, “The more things change, the more they stay the same”.

The “Being a Leader” course went on to show that a critical part of our effectiveness in leadership and life arises from our ability to replace the default context by a created context for the same situation. This created context, unencumbered by anything from the past, allows us to see possibilities which were not being allowed so long by our past.

So how does the above work? To understand that let us revisit the situation which we had talked about in the earlier post, ‘My Context uses me’.

“Whenever I notice someone, be it a family member, relative, office colleague etc. not doing it ‘my way’ or voicing disagreement about my way or style of functioning, I feel that the person is actually trying to prove me wrong , undermine me, not giving me the respect which I deserve etc.”

.My default context was, ‘Disagreeing with me implies proving me wrong, undermining me, disrespecting me etc’. This context led to situations occurring for me negatively and made me react in negative, hurtful ways.

As I review the above situation, I realise that I do hold the power to create a new context for myself. A context which says, ‘Getting the job done is what counts and it really doesn’t matter if the way adopted by others is different to mine so long as the job is done’.

As I think of this created context, I can see that it allows me to hold the big picture of getting the job done and get people to align their focus and actions to that. I also begin to see that with this context, I am no longer getting undermined, proved wrong and getting disrespected.
I now see that I hold the power to use my context to my advantage.
***
On a lighter note, I append below an extract from the ‘The Phantom Tollbooth’ by Norton Juster, which highlights how one could mis-use the context to the other person’s disadvantage!

“I don’t think you understand,” said Milo timidly as the watchdog growled a warning. “We’re looking for a place to spend the night.”
“It’s not yours to spend,” the bird shrieked again, and followed it with the same horrible laugh.
“That doesn’t make any sense, you see—” he started to explain.
“Dollars or cents, it’s still not yours to spend,” the bird replied haughtily.
“But I didn’t mean—” insisted Milo.
“Of course you’re mean,” interrupted the bird, closing the eye that had been open and opening the one that had been closed. “Anyone who’d spend a night that doesn’t belong to him is very mean.”
“Well, I thought that by—” he tried again desperately.
“That’s a different story,” interjected the bird a bit more amiably. “If you want to buy, I’m sure I can arrange to sell, but with what you’re doing you’ll probably end up in a cell anyway.”
“That doesn’t seem right,” said Milo helplessly, for, with the bird taking everything the wrong way, he hardly knew what he was saying.
“Agreed,” said the bird, with a sharp click of his beak, “but neither is it left, although if I were you I would have left a long time ago.”

In learning…….. Shakti Ghosal

Acknowledgements:
1) “Being A Leader And The Effective Exercise Of Leadership: An Ontological / Phenomenological Model” by Werner Erhard, Independent & Michael Jensen, Jesse Isidor Straus Professor of Business Administration Emeritus, Harvard Business School.

Whose Business are we really in?


Whose business are you in

“No one can give you freedom but you……”
―Byron Katie

My daughter was coming home for her Diwali vacation and had to catch an evening flight from Mumbai. Her cab got caught in an awful traffic jam a couple of kilometers from the airport. Almost an hour passed and the cab had barely moved a few meters. Visions of her missing her flight, not knowing what to do and not having a place to stay wrestled with each other in my mind. In a panic state, I started calling my daughter as well as the driver of the cab repeatedly. Little realizing that I was offering no support or suggestions, only communicating my panic to both of them. Making their situation worse, reducing their ability to think clearly and consider other options.
***
During a review, I found that a team handling a critical project with a deadline, had totally overlooked the time schedule of a specific activity. In the ensuing brain storming session, a plan was formulated whose proper execution would get the project through. My apprehension about whether the plan would be handled properly led me to try and micro-manage the team members at every step. But what this led to was resentment , loss of the team’s initiative taking and working together ability and members blaming each other.
***
I am a stickler for orderliness. Specially at home, I know where things are kept and stored. So when I see my wife and daughters taking out and using something, I expect that afterwards they would put it back where I believe it should be kept. Alas! This seems to be hardly their priority and so things taken from somewhere are kept back somewhere else. I intensely dislike this and therefore become more strident and possessive about how things need to be used and kept. I need hardly add that neither my wife nor daughters have been able to come to terms with this trait of mine.
***
As I look back at the above situations, I realise that in every case, my thoughts and the consequent behaviour and action, have led to more stress, both for me and others. I sense that in some way, my thoughts and consequently myself, are not willing to accept the reality of ‘What Is’. So what is the genesis of such thoughts and behaviour?

Byron Katie, American speaker and author, in her self enquiry method ‘The Work’, provides an interesting perspective and insight. She identifies three kinds of business in the Universe: Our own, other peoples’ and God’s. God’s business is really about the reality that exists. So when we are unwilling to accept such reality, we are really into God’s business. When we hold fear or expectations about other people, we are living into these other peoples’ business. As per Katie, every time we start mentally living in God’s or other peoples’ business, we are no longer in our own business. We separate from our own selves and this is what leads to the stress we experience.

In the words of Byron Katie:

“If you understand the three kinds of business enough to stay in your own business, it could free your life in a way that you can’t even imagine. The next time you’re feeling stress or discomfort, ask yourself whose business you’re in mentally, and you may burst out laughing. That question can bring you back to yourself. And you may come to see that you’ve never really been present, that you’ve been mentally living in other people’s business all your life. Just to notice that you’re in someone else’s business can bring you back to your own wonderful self”.

In Learning………… Shakti Ghosal

Acknowledgement: The Work of Byron Katie. http://www.byronkatie.com

My Already- Always listening


“Effective listeners remember that “words have no meaning – people have meaning.” The assignment of meaning to a term is an internal process; meaning comes from inside us. And although our experiences, knowledge and attitudes differ, we often misinterpret each other’s messages while under the illusion that a common understanding has been achieved.”
— Dr. Larry L. Barker, Author & Executive Coach

Already Always listening

I think of a few people engagements I have had in the recent past.

An office colleague comes in to discuss a problem that is likely to arise because of depressed business and enquiry levels from the Middle East markets. Our dependence on these markets has been high historically and remains crucial to meet our budgets. This upsets me. Time and again I had suggested that the division plans Sales trips to the region well in advance to renew our contacts with existing clients and meet new prospects. I sense this has not been done. A voice inside screams, “This guy is casual and lazy to plan in advance. He did not take my suggestions seriously and now when things have gone out of hand, he is running back to me with excuses. Why should I listen to him now?”

The other day, I hear that a market competitor has rolled out a series of innovative business initiatives in order to gain market stature and share. The CEO, known to me well, is a high school drop-out and has clawed up his way in the industry over the years. The inner voice returns, “There seems to be something wrong here. How on earth could this guy come up with such better initiatives than me when he has been so below me in scholastics? This is an affront and this guy, with such initiatives, is trying to undermine me.”

I am at this workshop and I meet an ex junior colleague who left our company some years back. I get to know that in the interim, he did his Masters and is now an Assistant Professor at a Business school. During his presentation, he waxes eloquent on Leadership and the need to envision a future that excites. While I cannot find fault with what he says, my earlier perception about him as a mere desk worker seems to stop me from embracing the concepts he speaks of. That voice inside whispers, “How could this guy, so much younger and less experienced than me, know more and teach me leadership concepts? Accepting and acknowledging what he says would put me down. I can’t do that! I need to think of how I could disagree with him.”

Do you see how that voice inside me is my Already- Always listening?

Do you see how my Already- Always listening has led me to have preconceived interpretations of what is being said even before it is said?

Do you see how such interpretations create judgments and opinions in me even before the other guy has opened his mouth?

Do you see how these judgments and opinions constrain and limit my listening, my thoughts, my actions and even the possibilities I am willing to consider?

It is as if I get onto rails which then allow me to think and act in only set ways. So when my colleague approached me to discuss what could be various options available to improve business from middle East markets, my reaction was to blame him for not having considered my earlier suggestions. In the second case, rather than critically reviewing the business initiatives of the competitor to learn and initiate effective response, my reaction was one of non-acceptance and making the competitor CEO ‘vanish’. And in the final case, rather than gaining insight from my ex-colleague’s presentation, I had closed my mind to much else except look for logic to make him wrong in my own perception.

Dear Reader, can you identify similar experiences in your life? If so, do you see how our Already-Always listening constrains and restricts us from achieving that big picture empowered way of being that we envision?

What is it that sustains such Already-Always listening and the related interpretations within us? This happens because almost all of us are not even aware of the distortion that exists between what is said to us and what we end up listening. Since we are not aware, we also cannot comprehend how our interpretations may be distorting our perceptions. So we end up assigning disparate causes to our relationship breakdowns and suboptimal performance but never the core issue of how our way of being and acting have being negatively impacted from the distortion that landed for us in our brains based on the Already-always listening and interpreting we did. We then try and ‘fix’ this false cause, which is really an effect, leading us to go through life trying to put out one fire after another.

Does this look or sound familiar?

So what could we do to distinguish and become aware of our Already-Always listening so that it loses its ability to run us and our lives?

In learning…………. Shakti Ghosal

Acknowledgement: “Being A Leader And The Effective Exercise Of Leadership:
An Ontological / Phenomenological Model” by Werner Erhard
, Independent & Michael Jensen, Jesse Isidor Straus Professor of Business Administration Emeritus, Harvard Business School.

My Life Sentence


“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself’.

Leo Tolstoy, Russian mystic & novelist. 1828-1910

jail_life sentence

At the age of ten, I had the first realization of what a gang was and what it could do to me. I do not recall how it started but one thing led to another and soon all my neighbourhood friends and playmates had ganged up against me. One evening, I had climbed up on the roof of our house with our servant as he was fixing the radio antenna. I saw my ex friends and playmates holding hands, dancing and skipping together and then with a shock, I heard their voices mocking, mimicking and making fun of me. In that moment I heard an inner voice saying, ‘There is something wrong here. There is something wrong with me.’

I remember telling myself, ‘I don’t belong’. I became a loner, did things on my own and showed up with a ‘I do not really care to belong’ persona to my erstwhile friends and the world. Even after a few weeks when all became well again and I was back with my friends, my self imposed life sentence ‘I don’t belong’ continued to reside inside me.

I time travel a few years ahead to when I am in my mid teens. I see myself having a great time with a bunch of friends at school. Sharing books and comics, watching movies and developing views of the world together. Being cool was all about hanging out together; classes and the need to master what was being taught took a back seat. I justified to myself, ‘I am smart and I can always make up my studies before the exams’. So it came as a shock when my final examination grades plummeted. That inner voice returned, ‘There is something wrong here. There is something wrong with me.’

I recall my father telling me, “You have become a mediocre. Mediocre people do not succeed in life”. In that moment of humiliation and self-doubt, I said to myself, ‘Life success depends on scholastic success.’ As this got ingrained in me as a life sentence, I got back to being a loner and focusing on scholastics. Over the years, as I went on to achieve one scholastic peak after another, to the outside world I was smart and successful. But somewhere inside, those vestiges of childhood humiliation and self doubt remained and my view of the world and behaviour towards other people continued to be guided by ‘Life success depends on scholastic success.’

Today as I think of myself, I sense how the life sentences I had imposed on myself during moments of shock and bewilderment those many years back, have so become part of who I am. It is as if there are several ‘me’s enacting different roles here. There is the judge ‘me’ along with the jury ‘me’ who have sentenced the accused ‘me’ to live out my life in a cell. A cell whose walls, ceilings and floor are composed of my own life sentences. Like inmates of an actual prison, I have devised my own winning and self-serving formulas to cope with the constraints of my prison life. Ironically though and unlike the actual prison inmates who try to get out into the free world, I don’t see the need to do so as my life sentence created prison bars have so become part of my persona and who I am.

And so I continue to go through Life carrying my life sentences. In many situations, I cope and come out the winner In others I feel like a ‘thrown dice’, caught up in unfolding events, clinging onto the ways from my past but yet failing to call the shots. I am left wondering who or what is leading my life.

Can I presume you, dear reader, also feel the same?

So how could we build our lives around our ‘real’ self, free of our life sentences and the persona we have created to cope? In their path breaking book, ‘The Three Laws of Performance’, authors Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan deep dive into this aspect. They point to a way of overturning our life sentences to free ourselves of these.

We need to start by showing compassion to that little guy within each of us who has been carrying the burden of the life sentences all these years. That guy who did his best to cope with life and produce results by trying to make up for what we have perceived as wrong with us. By hiding from others, even from our own selves. By conditioning ourselves to be different from who we think we are.

The authors then recommend that we create a crisis of authenticity within ourselves. A crisis of the real ‘we’ against the persona created by our life sentence. To create such a crisis ‘we need to locate where our foot has got nailed to the floor’. We do this by engaging ourselves with the following queries:

•Where in your life is something not working or not working as well as you want?
•In what areas of your life do you feel a loss of power, freedom, fulfillment or self expression?
•In those areas of life you just identified, how are you being inauthentic- what are you pretending, avoiding, not taking responsibility for?
•What can you see has been the impact, the limitations, of your having been inauthentic in those areas?

Dear Reader, are you ready to overturn your life sentence?

***

Two Wolves – A Cherokee Parable

2 wolves
An old Cherokee chief was teaching his grandson about life…

“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves.

“One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, self-doubt, and ego.

“The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness,
benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.

“This same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather,
“Which wolf will win?”

The old chief simply replied, “The one you feed…”

***

In Learning…….. Shakti Ghosal

Acknowledgement: The Three Laws of Performance: Rewriting the future of your organisation and your life by Steve Zaffron & Dave Logan, 2011. Chapter 6, Pages 143-168.

Entropy and the Age of Consciousness- Revisited


Few Days back, President Barrack Obama , when asked about his plan and perspective about how to deal with the ISIS militancy engulfing Iraq and Syria, said, “I don’t want to put the cart before the horse: we don’t have a strategy yet.” Was this response coming from a rising reluctance by the US to get involved in rest of the world matters? Or was it from a lack of confidence in one’s own ability to deal with newly emerging geo-political crises?

As I look around , I see other stress points and fissures opening up in the globe. The Crimean conflict in Ukraine. The on-going Palestine imbroglio. The Indo Pakistan stand-off on Kashmir. The emerging China Japan flexing of muscles. And so on….

What is it that leads to such stresses and conflicts in the world in this twenty-first century with its immeasurably higher globalization and information flows compared to the last? What could be that big picture vision that could lead mankind to a way-forward path?

My thoughts go to a piece I had posted two and a half years back. As I re-read it, I realise its perfect relevance to what is happening today. I am re-posting it here and at the end I have put forth some questions that come up for me at this point in time. So folks read on…..

***

All life revolves.  The world is awaiting a great awakening, which will occur with
the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.  This great awakening will take place in the months and years to come and bring significant changes to our consciousness as human beings.

                                                                      The Age of Aquarius, Starts 21st Century

A couple of weeks back, I watched President Obama’s State of Union address. Erudite and all encompassing as always, the President stressed issues of China and outsourcing. But what I really heard from the most powerful man on the globe was insecurity and fear. Of the slipping away of competences and strengths and not knowing what to do. The other day as I watched the BBC debate at the World Economic forum in Davos, I once again sensed the underlying hesitation and concern.

The competence and knowledge advantage which the US and developed world enjoyed from the beginning of the industrial age is fast seeping away. Other nations and societies are catching up faster. And the genie of Globalisation is only accelerating this trend and making the world flatter (to use Thomas Friedman’s famous terminology).

So what are the reasons for such competence and knowledge loss? What can be done to stop the hemorrhaging of this life blood? My thoughts veer towards Entropy, a concept in the realms of Thermodynamics. Entropy is a tendency towards disorder and Science postulates that this can only increase over time. So any “order” peaks, be it in energy, competence or knowledge, can only dissipate, seep away. Ultimately leading to a steady state in which random and uniform soupiness exists all over, the highest level of Entropy.

I recall Isaac Asimov’s Last Question, a haunting science fiction tale of a future reality. Of a Universe slowing down and coming to an end due to Entropy. As the last of Mankind and the last VAC (a super computer) fail to answer that last question, “Can Entropy be reversed?” The story goes on to tell us that as Entropy rises to its final resting level, all individual knowledge coalesce and join into one universal consciousness.

I reflect on what we are experiencing in the world today. Is it the entropy effect on the competences and knowledge possessed by the developed world? Of the inevitable seeping loss to the rest of the world. What would the next turn of the screw bring? As we see Asia rising today, would we not see Africa rising tomorrow? And so on, till a flat world achieves steady state of uniform competence and knowledge levels all over.

But do we see what this seeped competence and knowledge is doing? It is raising the level of awareness all over. Awareness of social and political realities, awareness of heightened aspirations, awareness of the need to keep on improving and improvising. An awareness which is getting accentuated by rapidly evolving communication, networking and database access technologies. And with this heightened awareness has come the inevitability of consciousness.

So what do I envision going forward?

I see mankind fast reaching a new level of human consciousness. As more of us become consciousness- conscious, as our thinking DNAs get re-programmed, we would start seeing and dealing with the world in significantly different ways. Most of the challenges and conflicts of today’s world stem from our beliefs and fears residing in the depths of our sub-conscious. Be it through the manifestation of ego, false fronts or preconceived judgments. But as we gain in consciousness, we gain the intent to shine the spotlight on these hidden drivers of our thoughts and behaviour. And under the light, these beliefs and fears shrink away and lose the capacity to run our lives.

Can we visualise the exciting times we are getting into? As the world witnesses consciousness rising like a tide all over with knowledge flows and heightened awareness. As the human brain starts utilising more of its unconscious capacity. As our new consciousness allows us to “see” our path towards enlightenment. As we herald the dawn of a new age, an Age of Consciousness.

Will this Age of Consciousness be the ultimate evolutionary goal of Mankind?

We are beginning to understand that what exists at the essential core of matter is information and energy. I hope and believe that the Information Age is going to be the stepping-off point for the Age of Consciousness  

                                            Dr. Deepak Chopra- spiritual writer & speaker, 2007

 

***

I am left wondering about what could make the big picture happen and expedite the dawn of ‘The Age of Consciousness’.

• What is that critical mass of knowledge flow and dissemination which would lead to heightened awareness of the big picture?
• What could each one of us do to reach that level?

In Learning……..                                                                                       Shakti Ghosal

 Acknowledgements:

1) The World Is flat: A brief history of the twenty first century by Thomas L. Friedman, 2005.

2)      The Last Question by Isaac Asimov, 1956

The Audacity of Who I am


“High above the noise and fear mongering of critics and cynics softly speaks your true self.”
– Mollie Marti, Psychologist, Lawyer & Coach, USA

The other day, I watched the Bollywood movie Queen. In it Rani, a girl from Delhi, travels to Europe after being spurned by her fiancé. The movie then goes on to explore Rani’s ‘World view’ as dictated by her Indian middle class values and how that alters, as her biases and prejudices fall away, as she is confronted by radically different value systems and perspectives. A journey of self discovery in surroundings where she is no longer weighed down by others’ expectations and diktats. As she morphs, she confuses and pisses off many people including herself. Rani emerges from this crucible of experience as a more authentic human being. As she chooses to be ‘who she is for herself and for others’, she symbolises courage as well as resistance. Walking out of the theatre, I could not help but acknowledge how Rani’s awareness and acceptance of ‘who she is for herself and for others’ left her more empowered and in control of her destiny.

Kangana Ranaut in Queen
Kangana Ranaut in Queen

Who I am for myself and for others? How many of us are willing to make this query a daily practice as we loosen the constraints imposed by our world-view, let go of who we believe we should show up as and embrace who we really are?

What is it that makes me avoid being who I am for myself and for others? I can see this stemming from my desperation to be admired, liked and looking good. My life experiences have conditioned me to avoid being straightforward and veer towards being diplomatic if I perceive it is the latter which makes me look good. I have also been guilty of the corporate lie. On occasions I have stretched the truth about my company and its services, hidden what could have been embarrassing. On other occasions I have manipulated situations and people. All this to succeed, be admired, look good.

I muse. Have my efforts to gain admiration and look good empowered me to greater heights? Have I succeeded in engaging in my life from a place of worthiness? I remain increasingly unsure.

So if avoiding ‘who I am for myself and for others’ has not worked for me, how could I embrace it? As I think of this, I begin to see what being who I am for myself and for others could mean for me.
Who I am 1

It would mean the audacity to show up as the ‘imperfect me’ that I am and the willingness to be vulnerable.

It would mean the audacity to let my hair down and allow myself to truly belong with the folks I choose.

It would mean the audacity to be compassionate and loving even when I hold the fear of not being good enough.

It would mean the audacity to be authentic about my own inauthenticities.

Am I committed to being this audacious?

***

“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse.’ It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’

‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’

‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’

‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

Excerpt from ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ by Margery Williams

In Learning….. Shakti Ghosal

Is this all there is?


What all is out there

I cannot claim to recall what I first saw as I came into this world. But I do hold memories of the wonder I felt as a child as I looked up at the evening sky and the stars. Or as I lay on the grass for hours, watching an array of ants or beetles carrying morsels of food. As I think back to those times of wonderment, I can still sense the question at the core, “What all is out there?”

Growing up, seeing and trying things for the first time, leaving home and going to hostel, getting into a new job, place, assignment. Into the unknown every time. At all such junctures, I sensed support from that accompanying question, “What all is out there?”

Life seemed to accompany with surprises galore. As I walked the pathway of new decisions, new insights, new direction, new philosophies. And as I continued to negotiate life’s surprises, what remained with me was, “What all is out there?”

“What all is out there?” It was about embracing and trusting that first step. It was about seeing things for the first time. It was about that unquestioning and unconditional mindset to take it all in. It was about listening to the life and energy that surrounds. It was about feeling connected to all things. It was about that undeniable faith that the world gives.

Those were the days my friend
We thought they’d never end
We’d sing and dance forever and a day
We’d live the life we choose
We’d fight and never lose
For we were young and sure to have our way

– Mary Hopkins, 1968

But somewhere along the way, that childlike wonder, vision and instinct seemed to dim. What seeped in was disenchantment and boredom. A preoccupation with things that are artificial. The burden of living up to other’s expectations. The loss of the allure of things acquired and goals achieved. The ‘Wow!’ and the newness of the first time giving way to ‘Being there, Done that’ refrain. The question taking center stage in my mind was, “Is this all there is?”

Is this all there is

“Is this all there is?” I wonder how this has taken root within me. Is this a mindset shift that gives undue importance to my knowing rather than feeling? Is this the conditioning from my education and peers which extol knowledge and wisdom as must-have virtues and gives short shrift to emotion and intuition? Is this my refuge from the sheer inadequacy I feel in dealing with a complex world?

Even though I discipline myself to ‘count my blessings’ and think of all that I have achieved in terms of position, wealth and family, I sense an emptiness and a lack of fulfillment. A feeling of disorientation and loss. Why is this I wonder?

I also sense another change in me. I now think much more of how much time and opportunity I have left rather than how far I have come and what I have achieved. If only I could recapture that ‘sense of wonder’ from my childhood for this remaining time and opportunity I have. I know in my heart of hearts that this could be that unfailing antidote against all that boredom and disenchantment I feel. But how could I do this?

Authors Werner Erhard and Michael Jensen in ‘Four Ways of Being that Create the Foundations of A Great Life, Great Leadership and A Great Organization’ point to a way when they identify one of the foundations as, ‘Being committed to something bigger than oneself’. In the words of the authors, “This is being committed in a way that shapes one’s being and actions so that your ways of being and acting are in the service of realizing something beyond your personal concerns for yourself – beyond a direct personal payoff. As they are acted on, such commitments create something to which others can also be committed and have the sense that their lives are about something bigger than themselves. This is an important aspect of a great personal life, great leadership and a great organization”.

As I muse I realize that the way to handle “Is this all there is” is in finding and pursuing a Cause that ignites a passion in me. A cause bigger than myself, that which energises and lights me up from within. What may this Cause be for me I am left wondering.

***
A quote from George Bernard Shaw’s ‘Man and Superman’.

“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.

I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.

I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no “brief candle” to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”25
***

In learning……….. Shakti Ghosal

Acknowledgements:
1) Four Ways of Being that Create the Foundations of A Great Life, Great Leadership and A Great Organization– by Werner Erhard and Michael Jensen, a Harvard Business School research paper, Nov. 2013.

2) Man and Superman– by George Bernard Shaw, 1903

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

Segovia and the polarity in my life


‘Have a dialogue between the two opposing parts and you will find that they always start out fighting each other until we come to an appreciation of difference… a oneness and integration of the two opposing forces.’
– Frederick Salomon Perls, German born, Jewish psychotherapist, 1950s.

Segovia- the name itself conjures up visions of victory and beyond.

Walking through the Plaza del Azoguejo, I can scarcely fail to sense the ebbs and flows of more than two millennia. As I stroll on the Plaza, myriad visions seem to surround me. Of the Celts declaring this their homestead during the Iron-age and looking down at the small valleys and canyons watered by the River Doraton. Of the Romans who took over as they pushed their empire far and wide, employing cutting edge technologies like the aquaduct. Of this once proud city lying forlorn and abandoned after the Arab invasion. Of its rejuvenation and the Gothic architectural renaissance after the middle ages.

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As I walk along the Calle Real towards the Plaza mayor, I am confronted with two distinctive aspects of this quaint World heritage town. Of expansive monuments, castles and cathedrals soaring into the skies, free of all restraint. Standing cheek by jowl with narrow, cobbled alleys, portraying a different world of scarcity and constraint. Interesting, is it not, this variance in the mindset of a society which creates and builds such contrasts? Is this merely a reflection of the socio-economic disparity and exploitation as many might suggest? Or could this be about something deeper within the human psyche?

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I muse and look inwards. And I start seeing the polarity of the differing aspects coexisting within me. An Abundance of resolve and the Scarcity of insecurity. An unrestrained Soaring of broadmindedness and the constricted Narrowness of prejudices.

I soar as I become conscious of my unique magnificience, replete with my abilities, experiences and values. As I live in a mindset of abundance, knowing there is plenty of wealth, happiness and fulfillment to go around. A belief which allows me to acknowledge my gratitude for people, situations and circumstances that foster me.

I constrict when I feel the need to protect myself from what I perceive to be a dangerous world.As I get conditioned to focus on what’s wrong with me and my life rather than celebrate what is right. As I see myself in competition for the world’s resources and the love and attention of others.

Looking at these aspects within me, I however see no stretch, no strain. How so, I reflect in wonderment?

But as I reflect, I start seeing the pattern. Of the continuum that exists within me with the ‘soaring magnificence ’ at one end and the ‘constricting narrowness’ at the other. Two poles that define the polarity of my existence. I further see how my coloured perception of different situations make me land at different points on the continuum. Making me soar and constrict at different times.

I am….. Soaring Magnificence ( SM)
I am… Constricting Narrowness ( CN).

I acknowledge both and, for the first time, make them to speak to each other.

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SM : “I need to soar. I need to break out of this vicious cycle of competition .and domination.”
CN: “You couldn’t possibly do that, could you? Do you realise what is at the core of these?”
SM: “Not really. What would that be?”
CN: “Well it is your Self doubt and fear. Self doubt that you are not good enough to get your fair share of love, fun, money.. Fear that if you do not resist, you will be dominated and cheated. Can you not see how essential these are for your security?”
SM: “Hmmm! So what could I do to rid me of self doubt and fear?
CN: “Frankly I wouldn’t know. In any case, why would you like to do that, losing your comfort zone and safety?”
SM: “But I wish to soar! That’s what I am here for. Suppose I were to replace self doubt and fear with trust. Trusting myself and others. Trusting my own abilities. Trusting that others are doing the best they know how to.”
CN: “How would you do that? Should you not be judging and be attached to what you would like to achieve?”
SM: “That’s it! You have shown me the way forward. I shall not judge, I shall remain unattached.”

There is no further comeback.

In learning…………………. Shakti Ghosal