Robben Island and a perspective shift


“I was made, by the law, a criminal, not because of what I had done, but because of what I stood for, because of what I thought, because of my conscience.”

Nelson Mandela, 1962

We embarked on our tour to Robben Island from the V & A waterfront in Capetown.

The ferry starts from the Nelson Mandela museum and one gets the opportunity to see a range of photographs about the early settlements and the apartheid era of South Africa before one embarks on the ten odd kilometer boat ride.

Nelson Mandela Gateway museum on the V & A Waterfront, Capetown
Nelson Mandela Gateway museum on the V & A Waterfront, Capetown

For me the trip attraction lay in getting a glimpse of the apartheid days and how Nelson Mandela lived eighteen of his twenty-seven years of imprisonment in that place. Interestingly, something I had not been aware of earlier but came to know during the visit was that apart from Mandela, two other post apartheid South African presidents, including the present one, were imprisoned there.

Robben Island
Robben Island

The island trip consists of a guided bus tour of the infamous lime quarry where Nelson Mandela did hard labour and progressively lost his vision, a leper colony which had existed on the island more than a century back and the military fortifications made during the Second World War. The highlight however was clearly the tour of the maximum security prison for which our guide was Henry, an ex-political prisoner who had spent six years in the island prison during the time Mandela was incarcerated there.

The lime quarry where Mandela did hard labour
The lime quarry where Mandela did hard labour

An interesting insight which Henry offered was about the elaborate cover up the apartheid government resorted to in front of international media and United Nations in those days. To the outside world, the prison administration declared that political prisoners like Nelson Mandela, keeping in mind their educated background, were only assigned ‘skilled’ activities inside the prison complex like construction work etc. While the hard labour of working in the limestone quarry, cutting stones etc. were reserved for prisoners who had been sentenced for criminal charges like murder, robbery etc. While in actual practice it was the other way round! The apartheid thinking was that while there was a chance to teach skills to criminals to enable them get absorbed back into the South African society, there was no such possibility for the political prisoners.

The Prison
The Prison
Maximum security zone of the apartheid era
Maximum security zone of the apartheid era

The cell which was home to Mandela
The cell which was home to Mandela

As the tour ended and as we walked back to the quayside to board our ferry, I overheard a conversation between Henry and a tourist.

‘So Henry, as you look back to your days in this prison, what kind of anger or regret do you feel?’

‘Well, when I was first brought here forty years back, I did feel anger and frustration at the sheer injustice of it all. But interestingly, after a while that went away and I became more calm and accepting. This is something which most political prisoners learnt to do when here. This was important for our own well being.’

‘That’s interesting. And what did you learn to be able to do that?’

‘Well what I learnt was to shift my perspective about the situation. My perspective about what made the Government and the administration do what they were doing.’

‘And what perspective was that?’

‘Well I realised that the reason for my being imprisoned on an island like this was not because I had done anything wrong as the authorities would have me believe. Rather they were afraid and insecure about me and the ideas I stood for. So why I was being tormented physically was because I and what I stood for were tormenting them much more mentally. So it was really a quid pro quo and I had nothing to feel angry or upset about.’

Boarding the ferry I looked around to see Henry walking back slowly towards the prison. I understood how that four decade old perspective has allowed him to make peace with his own self and the world. How it keeps pulling him back to Robben Island, the place of his earlier torment, year after year and speak about it to countless visitors like me.

With the ferry speeding back towards the mainland and the Table Mountain visible on the horizon, a thought kept coming back to me.
table-mountain-cape-town

What stops Henry’s perspective from being created in so many places in the world where anger, torment and fear continue to create violence and unhappiness?

What could each one of us do to spread that perspective?

In Learning…….. Shakti Ghosal

The paradox of Consciousness


Matter and energy had ended and with it space and time. Even AC existed only for the sake of the one last question that it had never answered from the time a half-drunken computer [technician] ten trillion years before had asked the question of a computer that was to AC far less than was a man to Man.

All other questions had been answered, and until this last question was answered also, AC might not release his consciousness.

All collected data had come to a final end. Nothing was left to be collected. But all collected data had yet to be completely correlated and put together in all possible relationships.

A timeless interval was spent in doing that.

And it came to pass that AC learned how to reverse the direction of entropy.

But there was now no man to whom AC might give the answer of the last question. No matter. The answer — by demonstration — would take care of that, too.

For another timeless interval, AC thought how best to do this. Carefully, AC organized the program. The consciousness of AC encompassed all of what had once been a Universe and brooded over what was now Chaos. Step by step, it must be done. –

the_last_question

From “The Last Question” by Issac Asimov

**

In a mother’s womb were two babies. One asked the other: “Do you believe in life after delivery?”The other replied, “Why, of course. There has to be something after delivery. Maybe we are here to prepare ourselves for what we will be later.”

“Nonsense” said the first. “There is no life after delivery. What kind of life would that be?”

The second said, “I don’t know, but there will be more light than here. Maybe we will walk with our legs and eat from our mouths. Maybe we will have other senses that we can’t understand now.”

The first replied, “That is absurd. Walking is impossible. And eating with our mouths? Ridiculous! The umbilical cord supplies nutrition and everything we need. But the umbilical cord is so short. Life after delivery is to be logically excluded.”
The second insisted, “Well I think there is something and maybe it’s different than it is here. Maybe we won’t need this physical cord anymore.”

The first replied, “Nonsense. And moreover if there is life, then why has no one has ever come back from there? Delivery is the end of life, and in the after-delivery there is nothing but darkness and silence and oblivion. It takes us nowhere.”

“Well, I don’t know,” said the second, “but certainly we will meet Mother and she will take care of us.”

The first replied “Mother? You actually believe in Mother? That’s laughable. If Mother exists then where is She now?”

The second said, “She is all around us. We are surrounded by her. We are of Her. It is in Her that we live. Without Her this world would not and could not exist.”

Said the first: “Well I don’t see Her, so it is only logical that She doesn’t exist.”

To which the second replied, “Sometimes, when you’re in silence and you focus and you really listen, you can perceive Her presence, and you can hear Her loving voice, calling down from above.”

A parable from “Your Sacred Self” by Wayne Dyer

sacred-self
**

I first read ‘The Last Question’ in an Asimov compilation in the Seventies. It’s haunting and philosophical tenor made me re-visit it several times over the ensuing decades. I had however not read ‘Your Sacred Self’ earlier and only had the opportunity to read the above parable, shared by a friend on WhatsApp, after Dr. Dyer’s death recently.

Why I bring these two pieces together is the common thread I see of both dwelling on Consciousness in truly unique ways. That special quality of thought that somehow transcends beyond us to gain clarity of our own selves as also of what is around. A subjectivity, unexplained by Science, which somehow allows a ‘sense’ of something beyond physical senses and Self .

In ‘The Last Question’, Asimov envisaged a Consciousness divorced from Man, matter, energy and even time. A Consciousness which learnt how to reverse the entropy and chaos of the Universe.

In ‘Your Sacred Self’, Wayne Dyer points to a Consciousness which can sense the existence of something beyond what is perceived by the physical senses.

Which brings us to what I call the paradox of Consciousness.

Could there be Consciousness divorced from the human mind and everything it perceives as Asimov fictionalized? A cosmic consciousness which is all pervasive and self sustaining. Something akin to God.

Or does Consciousness need to necessarily be linked to the human mind even as it senses things beyond what the mind can perceive, as in Wayne Dyer’s parable? A consciousness sustained by the mind and thoughts relating to possibilities beyond human logic. Something akin to an Enlightened Self.

Human mind appears to be a cerebral activity with inputs from some fifty thousand million cells of the human body. Could it be that our consciousness is a summation and assimilation of all these fifty thousand million inputs? Could it be that this assimilation leads to our consciousness becoming the space in which the Universe which includes we ourselves, others, physical and non-physical entities of every kind, their relationships with each other, along with the past, the present, and the future with all its possibilities shows up? English born author Joseph Pearce explains this best when he says, “Man’s mind mirrors a Universe that mirrors man’s mind”.

Science has been startled to find that there exists both intelligence and memory at the level of individual cells. The worldwide research into the human genome and DNA sequencing is testimony to this. Could it be that this intelligence and memory is being carried at the sub-atomic level and goes back to the beginning of time, the primal soup and beyond to the void before matter and energy existed?

Consciousness

Could this be how the human consciousness aligns with the cosmic consciousness and the paradox of Consciousness is resolved?

In Learning ….. Shakti Ghosal

Acknowledgements:

1)“The Last Question”– a science fiction short story by Issac Asimov, 1956
2)“Your Sacred Self: Making the decision to be free” by Dr.Wayne W. Dyer,2001

Air to the bird, water to the fish……


‘The three great mysteries: Air to a bird, water to a fish, Man to himself.’
– A Hindu proverb

What are the kind of situations which bring out the worst of reactive thoughts in us? I offer a few personal examples here.

**

I am driving back from office. Mind laden with the ‘To do’ stuff for tomorrow, interspersed with unrelated thoughts from the past. I get yanked back to the ‘now and here’ by a black SUV suddenly crossing the lane from the wrong side. Slamming the brakes, I curse.
Drivers Beware!

**

In a hurry to get back home, I rush into the Al Fair supermarket to pick up a few items which my wife had asked me to. Though the place seems fairly crowded with folks like me trying to squeeze in some grocery shopping, my check-out queue moves briskly till I reach second spot. It is then that the guy in front of me gets into a long drawn discussion with the counter lady on the intricacies of some redeemable voucher. Impatiently standing there, I see rage and anger building up inside me.
Supermarket queue
**

I notice an office colleague not complying with my instructions. When asked, he voices disagreement. I see this as trying to undermine me, or worse, an attempt to derail what I propose to do. I react by knit picking on the guy, by micro-managing at the activity level and in my anxiety to enforce, I end up hurting and demeaning. In all this, both of us have lost the big picture of what we had set out to achieve.
Office disagreement
**

Now these are my examples but I can wager you would have seen one or more of these playing out in your own lives. So what is it really that brings up these reactions in us?

As I ponder over this question, I start seeing aspects of my own self-centeredness. A ‘Self centering’ that I am at the center of the world for myself and somehow my immediate needs and feelings should determine how things should operate in the world. A ‘Self centering’ which then becomes a slew of learned reactive thoughts and behaviours to make that happen. Reactive thoughts and behaviours which have got hard-wired within to the extent that it is now a default setting, a who I am wound up being.

So the guy who I am wound up being is now conditioned to curse when someone drives wrongly on the road. Or to get into a rage when someone delays completing some work. Or to hurt and demean when the other guy does not do things ‘my way’.

Chris Argyris, Professor Emeritus at Harvard Business School, and a Thought Leader at Monitor Group, after four decades of studying individuals and organisations, concluded that, ‘… people consistently act inconsistently, unaware of the contradiction between their espoused theory and their theory-in-use, between the way they think they are acting and the way they really act.’

In real life, we might be completely aware of the right and wrong way of speaking, dealing with people and behaving. But come a situation or someone else’s behaviour that triggers our inner hard wiring, our reactive self takes over, ready to protect our turf at any cost. The interesting thing is that post the event, we remain hardly aware of how our reactive behaviour and actions were so much in variance to what we generally believe our actions and behaviour to be. A veritable Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde manifestation within us!

Have you ever wondered what makes it so hard for us to stop that reactive “Dr. Jekyll” self from taking over? This is because we mistake ‘Who we have wound up being’ as ‘Who we are’. This prevents us from seeing, as Chris Argyris surmised, the gap between the way we think we are acting and the way we really act. What is undistinguished begins to control us. Just like Air to the bird and Water to the fish!

So how could we start seeing the air and the water? What could we do to distinguish and remove all that acquired fluff of how we have wound up being to get down to the essence of who we are?

I believe we can make a start by holding the consciousness that we have a choice when confronted with a reaction generating situation or person. For example, what if I chose to think that the guy in that SUV who crossed the lane wrongly was rushing to the hospital where his wife was critically ill? What if I chose to believe that the guy trying to redeem those Al Fair vouchers was doing it to buy provisions for an orphanage? What if I chose to believe that the office colleague is as dedicated as me to achieve the overall objective?

The next step is to distinguish those aspects which have become part of ‘Who we have wound up being’. Read the language constructs below:

“ I Am….”

I am intelligent and smart.
I am disciplined and orderly.
I am competitive.
I am impatient with others.
I am a perfectionist and do not suffer fools.

“The way I wound up being….”

The way I wound up being is believing I am intelligent and smart.
The way I wound up being is disciplined and orderly.
The way I wound up being is competitive.
The way I wound up being is being impatient with others.
The way I wound up being is a perfectionist and who does not suffer fools.

What do you notice?

Do you notice that as the language construct shifts away from “I Am……” you gain the ability to distinguish the several traits you have acquired from who you intrinsically are?

Do you see that unlike the birds and the fishes, you are now able to discern the air and water around you?

Do you realise that you now have a choice?

***

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says,” Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes,” What the hell is water?”

David Foster Wallace in ‘This is Water’, commencement speech, 2005

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.

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

Mind Shift


“Whatever we are waiting for – peace of mind, contentment, grace, the inner awareness of simple abundance – it will surely come to us, but only when we are ready to receive it with an open and grateful heart.” ~Sarah Ban Breathnach, American author.

Everest

The morning of Saturday, 25th April dawned at the base camp of the Mount Everest expedition like any other. Just before noon, Sherpa Bahadur was attempting to establish contact with the expedition team up on the slope when he was non-plussed to see the snow covered ground shift and rise like a living apparition. The last thing he remembered was an ear-splitting sound and being swept away by the shifting ground under his feet.

nepal-earthquake-avalanche-ap855095418230
For days and weeks earlier, unknown to the Sherpa and his expedition mates, two pieces of the cracked Earth’s crust below, had been moving and pressing against each other, like they have been wont to do periodically for millions of years. The heat and the churning currents of the molten rocks underneath was leading to the crust crumbling and buckling with intense pressure points being created. Something had to give. And that is what happened on that fateful Saturday. As the pressure propelled the molten rocks below the crust to shift and move like a jumble of conveyor belts in disrepair, it manifested as a powerful earthquake of 7.9 magnitude on the Richter scale all over the Himalayan regions of Nepal and North India.

Witnesses later reported that the shifting avalanche began on Mount Kumori, a 7,000-meter high mountain just a few kilometers from Everest, gathered strength as it totally engulfed the base camp in the lower reaches of Everest.

For Sherpa Bahadur, a survivor of this immense natural tragedy, the shift of Earth’s tectonic plates led to a mind shift in terms of a change of focus and perception. What really mattered in terms of his relationships with his missing colleagues, the memories of all the great times they had had as they had planned for and painstakingly executed the expedition together came crowding into the mind. The pettiness of behaviours, the jealousies, the selfishness, all part of the way he had wound up being, seemed to recede. Standing amidst the destruction, carnage and sorrow, he found himself surprisingly engulfed by a peace of mind and an inner awareness of commitment.

Little did he realise it in that moment but Sherpa Bahadur had come through a Crucible event. A transformative experience that had given him an altered sense of identity and purpose. As he set about initiating efforts to rescue his missing team members, folks around him could not help but notice his strength of purpose and the nobility of his selflessness.

A crucible experience is a trial and test, a shifting of the ‘tectonic plates’ of our mind, opening us up to entirely new ways of being, of thinking and acting. As we do this, we can turn our life completely.

Steve Chandler, the author of “Shift your mind: shift the world”, says, ‘When the mind is open, it will shift. When that happens all of life becomes, momentarily, light as a feather. Light as a breeze. Beautiful! You go up to the next level of consciousness, and creativity, energy, vibration ó whatever you want, you’ve got it.’

So what is that mind shift Steve is talking about and what could one do to make it happen?

Well for a starter, we need to bring in a heightened awareness of our way of being. Only with such awareness can we hope to achieve some of the mind shifts given below.

MindShift

* A Gratitude Mind Shift: ‘Do you carry that nagging feeling that somehow you have less than the other guy? Could you shift your way of being to see all that you have as a blessing?’

* A Self-Creation Mind Shift: ‘Do you find yourself blaming others and the circumstances when faced with a problem? Could you shift your way of being to seek opportunities for self creation and development when confronted with pain or difficulties?’

* Being Cause in the matter Mind Shift: ‘Do you find yourself resisting or denying problems when they arise in your life? Could you shift your way of being to acknowledge that somehow, somewhere your choices and actions might have caused these?’

* A Self-Trust Mind Shift: ‘Do you find yourself doubting your own self and seeking answers from others? Could you shift your way of being to trust your own intuition and wisdom?’

* Being committed to something bigger than yourself mind shift: ‘Do you find yourself embroiled within your own self-serving pettiness and fears? Could you shift your way of being to embrace a cause bigger than yourself and choose to be fully alive and engaged to that?’

* An Initiative-Taking Mind Shift: ‘Do you find yourself waiting for someone else to take the lead? Could you shift your way of being to be the creator, the fire starter?’

* A Present Moment Mind Shift: ‘Do you see yourself being held back by your past? Could you shift your way of being to drop that story that is holding you back so that you could recreate yourself every day?’

That crucible experience that Sherpa Bahadur had on the lower slopes of Mount Everest on that fateful day was really about a very fundamental realization. Which is this. All that we perceive and take for granted, who we know our self to be, what we assume to be true about us, others and the world in general, is not the only reality. It is this realization that allows us to achieve heightened awareness and transform ‘the way we have wound up being’, allowing us to enter a new world. It is this realization that allows us to open our mind (and heart!) to the Shifts we have spoken of.

My invitation to you, dear reader, is this. Today, right now, pick one of the above Mind Shifts that most resonates with you. Gently place it inside your psyche and begin living it. Come on, give it a try! As you open your mind to embrace, you might be astonished with the results.

In Learning……… Shakti Ghosal

Post script: The post alludes to the recent devastating earthquake in Nepal. However Sherpa Bahadur is a fictional character and has no bearing to any living person. I however have no doubt that in reality there are innumerable individuals out there, who faced with a crucible experience arising out of the earthquake, have risen to the occasion with their untiring efforts. I offer this post as an acknowledgement and homage to all such brave and selfless individuals who have been working tirelessly on the ground to support the shattered communities.

Acknowledgements:

1) ‘Crucibles of Leadership’ by Warren G. Bennis & Robert J. Thomas, Harvard Business Review,
September 2002.
2) ‘Shift your Mind: Shift the World’ by Steve Chandler, Robert Reed publishers, February 2010.

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

I = My Word


You may choose your words like a connoisseur, And polish it up with art, But the word that sways, and stirs, and stays, Is the word that comes from the heart.

Ella Wheeler Wilcox, American author and poetess, 19th century

I recall the 1970s supernatural classic, ‘The Exorcist’ in which the possessed Regan, when asked “Who are you?” replies in a demonic voice, “Nowonmai”. Initially thought to be something in a foreign dialect, the reply is later deciphered to be, ‘I am no one’, when read backwards.

Regan in The Exorcist
Regan in The Exorcist

What is it that makes us ask the question, “Who are you?” It seems to support us to create a fix about the other person. About his characteristics, about his viewpoint, about his intentions. We try to determine the authentic self in the person which then allows us to engage with him powerfully.

At the other end, the enquiry ‘Who am I’ allows us to present a perspective of ourselves which we feel offers the best chance for engagement and success. Said another way, we show up, not as our authentic self, but in the best manner possible to get the job done. Clearly, over time, our ‘Who am I’ face does become a talent for deception.

It is in the attempted matching between the “Who are you” gained perspective and “Who am I” put on mask that the effectiveness of engagement and relationship between two individuals lies.
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Who am I? I remember those times as a child when having nothing better to do, I would stare into the mirror and wonder, “How is that me?” Am I me because of the name which my parents christened me with? Or because of how I look? Or because of how I think, speak, act? Or because of how I behave with others? After all these decades today, when I think back to those questions, I yet remain uncertain of the answers.

Who am I? Why do I experience this sense of self? Is it a natural function of my mind? Or is it some spiritual awareness that keeps tugging at me? The fact remains that with every passing day, I keep changing. Every day I change into the person I become in the moment. As I sift through photographs and memories, I am confronted with the realisation that I am a person who is significantly different from the person I had been at an earlier time. Both physically and mentally, I see myself changing, adding, subtracting, becoming …..Me.

But if I am always changing, adding, subtracting, becoming, where does the assurance of ‘Who am I’ lie? For is this assurance not critical to my engagement and effectiveness in the world? As I muse on this, my thoughts shift to a webinar series titled ‘Integrity: Without it nothing works’ which I participated in recently. In it, author Mike Jensen concludes that the foundation for being a high performance individual is to declare “Who I am is my word”. He goes on to say that within his own organisation, a perspective shift to ‘I am my word’ amongst employees led to a 300% improvement in performance with no additional inputs.

As per Mike, since I am my word, I become whole and complete only when my word is whole and complete. And how does my word become whole and complete? This happens when I honour my word. I can do this in two ways. First by doing what I said and in case I am unable to do so, I inform about this to all the people counting on me and be willing to clean up any mess that might get created.
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Why does honouring my word become important? Because it makes my word, and thereby me the person, whole and complete. This is what goes a long way to improve the potential of my performance. To understand this some more, let us look at the example of a car. For optimum performance, it needs to have been designed right, all its components need to be in place and functioning and you, the owner, drive it correctly. Should any of these aspects be missing or not right, the car would malfunction, become unreliable and essentially would lack integrity. So it is true with me (or you). When my word and therefore I, am whole and complete and therefore in Integrity, I radiate an empowered and trustworthy persona and my actions get perceived as reliable and consistent. This then becomes the core of ‘Who I am’ which does not change even when I change physically and mentally. The power of “I AM equal to MY WORD” lies in this. As my word gets perceived as that changeless anchor I am to which everyone around me can tie their knots of trust and faith to.
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As I muse of all the difficult-to-handle aspects ranging from self deception about not honouring my word ‘ Do I really need to if no one is looking’ to fear of acknowledging that I would not be able to keep my word ‘How on earth would I clean all the mess that would ensue’, I realise the best place to start is to give my word to myself that I would be my word.

In Learning…….. Shakti Ghosal

Acknowledgement :‘Integrity: Without it nothing works’. Harvard Negotiation, Organisation and Market Research Paper No. 10-042 by Michael C. Jensen,Jessie Isidor Straus Professor Emeritus, Harvard Business School, April 3, 2014.

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.
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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

Sagrada Familia and the Power of Intentions


“Inspiration is intention obeyed.” Emily Carr, Canadian artist and writer, early twentieth century

Coming into Barcelona by the high speed AVE train, we disembark at Barcelona Sants and proceed to our hotel. Check-in over, I enquire about how to go to Sagrada Familia and am delighted to learn that it is a mere ten minutes away by walk.

My pre-visit reading up on the Sagrada Familia basilica does not stop me from gasping in wonderment as I first set my eyes on the structure from across the park in front. At once imposing due to an unorthodox modernistic architecture and at the same time incongruous due to the plethora of construction platforms and jib cranes.
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This Antoni Gaudi creation has been a work in process for one hundred and thirty years now, having survived the World Wars and the much more vicious Spanish Civil War. Termed as the most ambitious cathedral in human history and the work completion still uncertain, the gargantuan structure continues to attract generations of architects and sculptors from across the world.
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Stepping inside the interiors of the main tower, I am astounded by the myriad forked columns going up to create a network which resembles a forest cover. Is this how the creator visualised this I wonder? So what was the final image that Gaudi held when he passed away close to a century back leaving behind a fraction of what he had set out to make?
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Near the rear façade, I overhear a guide telling a bunch of tourists that the reason why Antonio Gaudi had not been able to make progress with the construction over more than four decades of his personal involvement was because he was always improvising and making design changes even when the construction was on. And some of the complex architecture he envisioned required technologies and processes not then conceived.
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I stroll away musing. What was it that had motivated Gaudi to keep on improvising and changing thus to hamper the progress of what he wanted to create? Strange as it may seem, could it be that Gaudi was not oriented toward a time specific goal? Could he have been following a path that only focussed on ‘how he was being in that moment’? Could he have set his intentions to align away from the actual work completion and more with his inner values?

Contrary to what we generally believe, our intentions can be significantly different from our goals. The whole concept of goal achievement can be seen as a cause and effect relationship. Something like an Action- Reaction with the goal being the final effect; the reason why goal achievements need action plans. With the increasing hype and obsession with goals, we see our actions as the cause that lead us to the goal. But brickwalling our thinking thus prevents us from probing deeper for the real cause and we are frequently frustrated to see set Goals not being achieved. A misalignment of externally motivated goals and our true inner intentions. A century ago, was Gaudi too a victim of such misalignment, I wonder?

So how do we align our goals with our true intentions? How could we simply plant an intention and watch it grow into a desired goal? Dr. Wayne Dyer, the renowned speaker in the field of self-improvement, says, “You have to just be. You have to let go. You have to allow. You have to be free and make this your consciousness.” He continues, “Basically, what you would see is a frequency (of energy) that manifests itself through the process of giving, of allowing, of offering and of serving. It asks nothing back. This is the power of intention.” According to Dr. Dyer, the process of allowing, just being and embracing this heightened level of consciousness, goes back not to attracting what you want, but attracting what you are.

Walking away, I look back one last time at Gaudi’s magnum opus in the fading evening light. I sense the power of intention which allowed Gaudi and the scores of architects and sculptors after him for more than a century, to only “give, allow, serve” asking nothing in return as they continued their journey of “being”.

In learning…….. Shakti Ghosal

Acknowledgement: The Power of Intention- Learning to co-create your World your Way
by Dr. Wayne W. Dyer, 2010. A Hay House Inc. publication.