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.

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.

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.
untitled
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.
Broken_Promises_by_HerrFous

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.
integrity
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.
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

Connectedness – My takeaway from Avatar


“….and unless we touch others, we’re out of touch with life.”
– Oliver Wendall Holmes, American physician & poet. 19th Century

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Most of us remember the James Cameron directed 2009 epic Avatar as a technically brilliant Sci Fi extravaganza. But what fascinated me about the story was the vast neural connectivity between every living organism on that beautiful world of Pandora. A network which allowed the humanoid species called Na’vi to not only connect to every other flora and fauna on the planet but to an evolved and higher planetary consciousness called Eywa. Eywa apparently is all about deep connection , bonding and balance, termed in Na’vi language as tsaheylu, and this alone becomes responsible for the defeat of the otherwise technologically superior and better armed human army.

Sometime back I had mused on the influence of internet and social media connectivity and the shift it is bringing to our society in ‘A World of Tweeple’. A shift that is moving large swathes of humanity from traditional groupings of ethnicity, community and religion to individual ‘Me- Self’ connectivities that satisfy emotional and social needs. My crystal ball gazing showed up two paths. One leading to a frightening Matrix like future where wired to central intelligences, we access information at will in return for our innermost thoughts and beliefs on display for others to examine. The other path holding the promise of our individualism being empowered by the power of networks to achieve a utopian future.
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What is it about these visions of connectivity that fascinate so? Does such connectedness somehow, somewhere, signify an aspect of yearning, an area where we see a lack? I dwell upon this. I see myself connected to every life form through that double helix structure called DNA. I see my connections in the symbiotic relationship of the air, food and water that I take in. And I also see my connections in my social needs to bond and belong.

So what exactly is lacking?

I decide to do a reality check. What is it that makes us prefer Facebook friends to real ones? Could this be because deep down we remain diffident and uncertain about our ability to ‘connect with our hearts’, so essential to blossom a real friendship? Could this be because Facebook and such social media technologies allow us to calibrate and control how much, when and where we choose to share? Something which real friendships and connections could never tolerate. Could this be the reason that as technology gives us the means ‘to connect’ more and more, we see increasing evidence of disempowering disconnect all around? As we try and escape by shifting our connectivity to gadgets and technologies than to each other……….

I once again come round to the thinking that we have indeed become obsessed with a “Me- Self” mindset. And have chosen to forget all that had our forefathers had learnt to reach this stage of societal development. Aspect of being there for each other. Aspects of trust and empathy. The need to reboot our ‘operating system’ back to “Us –Selves” from the recently acquired “Me- Self”

So I come back to the question about what could we do to steer onto the alternative path promising that utopian future?

In a recent graduation address, Nipun Mehta, the 32 year old founder of CharityFocus.org and a recipient of the Jefferson Award for Public Service, speaks of three keys that helped him to return to a place of connection.

• Key number one ‘To Give’: Contrary to what the corporate world teaches, Nipun started with the hypothesis, “Maybe Greed is good but Generosity is better”. His experience with several projects has shown that (in his own words) ‘People consistently underestimate generosity, but human beings are internally wired to give.”

• Key number two ‘To Receive’: In Nipun’s words, “With any act of unconditional service, no matter how small, our biochemistry changes, our mind quietens, and we feel a sense of gratefulness. This inner transformation fundamentally shifts the direction of our lives.” It is in giving that we receive.

• Key number three ‘To Dance’: Contrary to what most people do, Nipun says that we should never try and track what is being given or received. Instead we need to let go and tune into the rhythm. The real reward of the give and take lies not in the value of what is being exchanged but the connection which flows underneath.

To Nipun Mehta’s three keys, I wish to add a fourth one.

• Key number four ‘To be Conscious’: As conscious beings, we are uniquely endowed with awareness and imagination. Aspects which allow us to connect to the Universe. As we do this, using vehicles like Science, Art and Religion, we are able to gain the unique understanding of the “spirit” that permeates and connects all things. Much like the connectivity in Avatar, it is this spiritual consciousness that becomes our ultimate connection to everything in the universe.

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So, are we ready to give, to receive, to dance and to be conscious……… and to connect as we move through our lives?

“The cosmos is within us. We are made of star-stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself.”
― Carl Sagan, 1990.

In Learning…………………… Shakti Ghosal

Acknowledgement: Miserable & Magical: A Graduation Speech for Paradoxical Times– by Nipun Mehta, May 27, 2013.