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

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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.

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

Success…… Vision or Delusion?


“When your life flashes before your eyes, make sure you’ve got plenty to watch, be it vision or delusion.”

Anonymous

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

 Success is such an empowering word. We think of it and we think of…. Happiness….Self esteem….Superiority…..  facets which enthuse, inspire, pump the adrenalin. Success seems to be   what we live for. What our parents and teachers always exhorted us to do. Scholastically, materialistically, competitively. Success brings forth visions of wealth, power, intelligence and with these the ability to control the outcome of events. All those external trappings. What the world judges us by.

But as I think of success, I also see within it the other paradigm. Of increased self awareness and self development. Of a positive intention and an alignment with a higher purpose. Of that mysterious inner process which ensures personal integrity and a commitment to values. The aspect of success as exemplified by Mahatma Gandhi when he said, “I must first be the change that I want to see in the world.” Success thus gets linked, not to the external world, but to an inner compass, an inside out initiative.

Which brings me to Vision and Delusion, those two aspects of our mind. We are conditioned to see these as the Good and the Bad on the same spectrum. We see great positivity in Vision but perceive delusion as something to be shed. So as vision becomes that which drives, delusion is that which keeps us lazy. Vision has logic and reasoning supporting it while delusion is immersed in randomness. If we go by this perception, we tend to associate Success with vision and not with delusion. But is this association valid?

 My daughter has this linkage to success. She needs to wear an old watch with a jaded pink band whenever she is writing examinations. She remains convinced that wearing this watch has something to do with her succeeding. The thinking is, “I wore this watch. I succeeded. My success is because I wore the watch.” The watch deludes her into self confidence and purpose; its absence leads to nervousness and lack of focus.

A work colleague of mine has this high belief in his own capability.  Every time he jumps into a fresh project, he deludes himself to over-estimate his own contribution and gives no credence to the positive role of other people or circumstances. So while he gets accoladed as an achiever, I notice him getting increasingly delusional from the success. Do I see shades of Hitler and Saddam Hussein who, in their time, were similarly deluded about their own great power and ability to control events?

Coming to my own self, I can see the several beliefs that have contributed to what success I have seen. Beliefs pertaining to people, situations and work. The other day, when a business associate was proposing a new process, I noticed an instinctive resistance building up within me. I heard myself countering that our prevailing processes brought success in the past so why change. Later when I thought about my negative reaction, I wondered if I had got trapped in my own success delusion, refusing to move with change.

The above provide glimpses of how success gets linked to the outside. But what about success that comes from within?

When we look inwards for that inner success, I believe this requires a balance between mental, emotional and spiritual dimensions. Success here gets closely aligned to our core values. It is this alignment which allows a clear vision of the future. Of innovative action and a sense of direction. Mahatma Gandhi had such a vision when he undertook the novel path of non-violence to gain India its independence from its colonial masters. Decades later, this also became the power of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech.

So I come back to the question, “What does success mean to us, a vision or a delusion?”

I believe true success would need to embody both external and inner facets of our existence. Which would mean that both delusion and vision would play a role.  If delusion panders to our emotions, makes us feel optimistic and helps us to aim higher, vision allows us to dream the future and inspires action with imagination and insight. So as our success remains a product of both sides of the Vision- Delusion polarity, the kind of success each one of us achieves depends on the mix of vision and delusion we have created within ourselves.

Could this be the reason for the thin line we often notice between a visionary and a delusionary? Could this have been the reason for the visionary brilliance of Nobel laureate John Nash as he grappled with his schizophrenic delusions, so eloquently portrayed in the film Beautiful Mind?

My Bad is stronger than my Good.


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

                                           David Millar, Scottish Road racing cyclist champion

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is out of harmony and how do I restore it?


But what is happiness except the simple harmony between a man and the life he leads?

                                                    Albert Camus, French philosopher, early 20th century
 

Harmony. The word itself brings forth visions that soothe and caress. Of wafting melodies. Of the gurgling of a mountain spring. Of the swaying of flowers in the wind. Of a synchronicity of notes and music.

What is my harmony? It is intrinsic to who I am. What I feel, what I think, what I say and what I do. It is a ballet of all these aspects of mine. When I am in harmony, these pieces fit and the alignment between my inner and outer self comes into being.

As I reflect on ‘What is out of harmony and how do I restore it?’ I realise this holds the power to set the ultimate goal for my inner self. As I try to align my inner self with my outer behaviour into a harmonic resonance.

Am I in harmony? I shine the light of this question inwards and seek. Where is the disconnect in the way I feel, think, speak or behave? Yes, at times I do feel out of sorts- frustrated or confused. At other times I feel upset or overwhelmed. I see this happening mostly in my relationships- at work, at home or amongst friends. I see the disharmony between what I feel and think and the way I am conditioned to act and speak. These are clearly not on the same page. I notice that what comes in the way is my ego. That ego which is always putting up a façade and trying to project a different image of “ME- SELF” than what I really am inside.

But my ego has its usefulness. It creates a resistance, sometimes aggressive, sometimes passive, sometimes positive and at other times negative to any perceived attack on my self. And I do find this resistance gives me stability.  Stability about “Who I am”, “Who I want to be.” And at other times “Who I do not want to be.” As I further think of this, I realise that I am also offering some kind of stability to the attacker as he tries to push, pull or grab some aspect of me. The attacker expects and needs my resistance for his attack to work. I seek to be part of the conflict and this makes me feel emotionally powerful. I justify to myself that I need to maintain my ego because otherwise the attacker would see the weak real me.

I time travel into the nineties. Fresh into a new job, I was having an awful time with this guy from the corporate office. I felt powerless in front of his overbearing and bossy attitude. An attitude which made me feel like a scapegoat every time we interacted. Then one day the volcano burst- an outburst from the usual reticent me. And it was too late to pick up the pieces. Years later, I came to realise that the corporate guy had similar qualities to a school teacher in my childhood. This teacher used to bruise my confidence (ego) by always judging and criticising me in a discriminatory manner. My reaction in the workplace came from the perception that my ego faced a similar hurtful situation. I had played the script of offering resistance to my attacker to perfection.

But does my past justify how I need to react in the future? Or is this my excuse to maintain disharmony in my life?

  • What thoughts and beliefs do I engage in that create disharmony in my life?
  • Does disharmony in me cause conflict with others at  work, at home or at play?
  • Do I tend to blame others for my disharmony?
  • What if I let my ego down? What could happen?
  • What if the other guy sees the real me?

As I ask myself these questions, I start gaining clarity. I see them as issues to be dealt with rather than excuses.

I realise that to restore my harmony, I would need to offer no resistance, or as little as possible, to attacks on my ego. This is initially a frightening prospect with my deep rooted fear of getting hurt taking control over me. But I delve deeper…..

When the other person decides to attack me / my ego, he is breaking the harmony of our joint universe.  If I choose to offer no resistance, I move to a place of harmony as I leave my attacker out of harmony in his relationship with our universe. I believe that as he is left alone without any resistance from me to give him stability, nature would restore harmony in him. Without my ego for him to attack, he would have to stop.

I see now that harmony empowers the highest level of Self Management in me. As it supports me to act from a place of integrity; a place where there is no fakeness or self-deception. Harmony allows me to be at peace within my own skin. But I also notice that to achieve harmony, I need to begin with my values. What’s really, really important to me?

Ultimately, to answer the question, “What is out of harmony and how do I restore it?” I need to first answer, “Am I living my values?”

In learning……………..                                                                           Shakti Ghosal