Ruined castles and shoots of green tender spirit

Lies in ruin, another castle built with love
Suddenly, Unexpectedly, yet another castle

Lessons learnt many, when former castles collapsed
Reflections studied, from shards of shattered mirrors
Mourned silently by the funeral pier,
where Ego burnt, and Soul deserted

To deep corners went searching, accompanied by Introspection
Looking for peace, for meaning
When Humility came calling, all doors opened
even windows and some more.

Discovered Tranquil, hidden amidst pages
of ancient art, religion and philosophy.
forged wisdom, in the fire of pain
On how to rebuild castles to last

Or so it appeared then

Rejoiced with enthusiasm, restrained
when the next blueprint found its way
Gratefully, I built a truly different castle,
balancing yin for yan

Or so I thought. 

Walk amidst the ruins now,
surveying what remains
Surprised to see sprouts.
Wilted, bruised but sprouts nevertheless

Shoots of green and tender Spirit,
watered by prayer
On fertile land underneath ruins
where castles never meant to be

On Work and why ‘finding our Passion’ is over rated

Many of us have grown with the idea that you do your best work when your passionate about what you do. We all eulogize Steve Jobs’s Stanford commencement speech, where he urges us to “do what we love”, don’t we.

The biggest trouble I’ve had with this notion, and I’ve tried it ‘passionately’, is – passions change over time. Today I’m passionate about education, earlier it was books and writing, in-future it maybe entrepreneurship. What I don’t know when I start doing something passionately is, for how long I can remain passionate about it. It does get me going at heightened energy levels, inspires creativity and spurs me into action.  The troubles start when the initial rush, which can last a few months sometimes, is over. I begin feeling drained by the mundane but necessary. If this happens for a while, the inevitable question pops up- is it time to re-assess what I’m truly passionate about?  If I go down this road longer, will I ever build mastery in anything, I wonder. I was surprised to know there a full book that explores this –  So good they can’t ignore you by Cal Newport (I haven’t read this yet). I quote from (here).

Newport argues that focusing on following your passion is bad advice, and not everyone has a pre-existing calling to pursue. This causes people to constantly question their career path and leads to job-hopping

Another difficulty I have with ‘follow your passion’ is that the idea is not universal. Can a building construction worker be truly passionate about laying bricks? Can a house maid clean up after you, passionately? What if all farmers in India decide that they are not passionate about growing food? See where this line of argument goes? We, the privileged elite with more options than we need, waste our time trying to ‘find our passion’.  even argues that this notion devalues work in this article.

My ‘aha’ moment came with this dawned upon me – passion drains me. There are days when I get up and “work passionately” and there are others where I feel no motivation at all. The ‘passionate’ days are extremely productive and creative, but they are always followed by the dull demotivated days, almost immediately. I am at my productive best when I have an extended period of ‘zen days’, where I get up and work, with no memory of my interests or passions. I don’t even feel drained after long hours of work. In Indian philosophy, excitement with current work is equated to being caught up with the past or worrying about the future in terms of energy drain.

“There are three ways the mind drains vital energy – blaming the past or someone else, anxiety about the future and excitement about the task you are performing now”

- Vendanta Treatise by A Parthasarathy

Before I drive one to conclude that passion is evil, I do believe passion has a place in our work. Just like adrenalin has its place in a race, only passion is intermittent. Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, argues beautifully (here) that passion is optional.

Passion is optional.

But if you want to experience passion, you’ll have plenty of it after success. Over the course of my eclectic career, I have felt excited every time I tried a new business venture. As the venture failed — and most did — my excitement drained away. But for the few that worked, success made me feel something that one might call passion. In other words, success causes passion more than passion causes success.

What is important to consider however, is if not for passion, how do be bring our best out at work? How do we stay motivated to do our best?

I’ll write about what I’m experimenting with in my next article.

Of Images, truth and red roses

How I’m perceived by other people surprises me often.Unless I’m projecting something knowingly, it is different from how I ‘conceive’ myself in my head. How does this image form? Is that my true self? Is it like the red rose asking, why does everyone think I’m red? Or rather like the moon asking, why does everyone say I’m bright and white?

The rose is red because it gives away red. The moon is bright because it reflects all the light that comes upon it. I appear to be my image because of  what I give away or what I reflect; knowingly and unknowingly.  It is a concoction of feelings – expressed and restrained, of deeds  - performed and not, of words – spoken and untold. My ‘image’ is also a function of who, and where from, is someone watching. The sky is blue from the earth and the earth is blue from the sky. 

Which brings me to the question of what is true. Oh well, I almost forgot that this is about images, not truth.

“Do not think about yourself, but be aware of the thought, emotion, or action that makes you think of yourself”.

- Jiddu Krishnamurti: The Little Book on Living

The noise in my head

It is fascinating how my mind works, or wanders rather. It is in constant motion, flowing from thought to thought. Triggered by impulses, driven by imagination but bound by memory – all at the same time. At some point, this motion becomes an impression – of what things mean, should be or shouldn’t be.  Observe it for five minutes and I can’t avoid a smirk turning into an impish grin. Gosh!  I act based on these impressions – of what success is; what happiness is; what righteousness is.  Every single moment.

All our final decisions are made in a state of mind that is not going to last
~Marcel Proust

It continues incessantly, from the first moment of awakening in the morning until the blurry boundary of half conscious dreams, before sleep engulfs.  How much of this time am I really aware of the mind. The tricks i’m playing on myself – that I am happy or loved or otherwise. It is the mind which lives. Its like my mind and me are two different things.

But how many corners do I have to turn?
How many times do I have to learn
All the love I have is in my mind?

Yes I can train the mind and use it to achieve something by ‘thinking’. Do the same things constantly and the mind forms a habit – so it doesn’t need to ‘think’ but I can act. While it practices some more tricks.  Only when I’m fully absorbed in ‘thinking’ about something that the mind stops wandering. But then, it just needs another excuse or an external impulse (trigger) to get back to what its natural state is – to wander. These days, the triggers are one too many.

Why is its natural state to wander? How do I stop the noise in my head?

Tagged ,

Books that inspire me


Lectures on living by J Krishnamurthy

This isn’t about one book but all of J Krishnamurthy’s talks translated into several books. His messages are simple but timeless and goes straight to the most fundamental questions in life. I don’t consider myself capable of writing any summary, so I’ll not try.

Self-knowledge is not knowing oneself, but knowing every movement of thought. Because the self is the thought, the image, the image of K and the image of the `me.’ So, watch every movement of thought, never letting one thought go without realizing what it is. Try it. Do it and you will see what takes place.

Biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

I’m sure several people in my generation will idolize Steve Jobs the innovator. What also inspired me was his ability to inspire others towards his vision. He had some big weaknesses, but he focused on his strengths and on creating something.  What also inspires me is how he lived on his ideals – of not aiming to become the richest man in the world (although he could) but to leave a legacy.

“Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me … Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful… that’s what matters to me.”

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

A wonderful fable that can change one’s life, give you the courage to follow your dreams.

It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.

Whoever you are, or whatever it is that you do, when you really want something, it’s because that desire originated in the soul of the universe. It’s your mission on earth. And when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

A 1943 novel that inspired a whole generation. To me, it still does

“But you see,” said Roark quietly, “I have, let’s say, sixty years to live. Most of that time will be spent working. I’ve chosen the work I want to do. If I find no joy in it, then I’m only condemning myself to sixty years of torture. And I can find the joy only if I do my work in the best way possible to me. But the best is a matter of standards–and I set my own standards. I inherit nothing. I stand at the end of no tradition. I may, perhaps, stand at the beginning of one.”

Who Moved My Cheese by Dr Spencer Johnson

A one hour read that can remind you changing is growing . And inevitable.

“What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

A book that isn’t copyrighted anymore and book that should be printed for free and distributed. Maybe ill do that someday when I can afford it.  Spiritual journey of an Indian man named Siddhartha during the time of the Buddha. Oh what a story!

“I, also, would like to look and smile, sit and walk like that, so free, so worthy, so restrained, so candid, so childlike and mysterious.”

Our sense of Identity

The article below from HBR blogs has gotten me thinking about a whole new dimension to the oft used phrase “Identity Crisis”

Why an Identity Crisis Might Be Just What Your Brain Needs

To quote:

Have you ever been in a meeting where you’re carrying an individual identity of, “I am an expert on this topic,” and someone erodes that identity by challenging your point? What happens? From a neuroscience standpoint your brain shifts into a “fight or flight” limbic response and for a time you can’t even think straight. All of the resources (namely oxygen and glucose) that were being dedicated to your thinking brain (the prefrontal cortex) have now been diverted to your emotional brain (the limbic system) and for a moment your ability to function effectively in your job is greatly impaired.

While the situation above maybe an extreme case, I’ve been in situations where I seem to behave very differently because I’m carrying a certain identity and it either fits or it doesn’t. I agree with the point of view in the article that simply being aware that we behave in this manner will help us. However, it is never easy to have such awareness. It is even more difficult to actually and decisively change one’s sense of identity. At times I also worry about how others will perceive the sudden change in us (silly I know!). At other times it maybe something too fundamental to change. While the example above is from a professional situation, the concepts holds very true in social situations too.

But such situations are great feedback aren’t they? Of what you actually see yourself as, against what you want to be.

Exploring Pleasure and Happiness

I’m in pursuit of pleasure. Not happiness, but pleasure. It is because sometimes it helps me forget the emptiness I feel otherwise. Most other times however, I’m simply not aware of the difference. How do I become more aware?

Maybe I could start within understanding what each one means.

Pleasure is the easy one. Any activity that appeals to one or more of my senses and gives me joy for some time. Watching something beautiful, tasting good food, listing to music, a massage, a pleasing perfume or so goes the list. Some activities which stimulate more senses like travelling are high on the ‘want list’. One thing is certain thought, that it passes. With repetition, I become less aware of the stimuli and its effect, so I seek new stimulation in other things. So I want more and I want variety. To beat the boredom, the emptiness.

Happiness is more difficult to understanding. Its never instant gratification, but it stays as long as I’m doing the things that help the feeling stay. If I exercise I’ll feel fit and happy. If I build strong relationships, I feel fulfilled and happy. If I repeat kind acts to another, I feel happy. Every single time. However, my very nature of seeking immediate gratification makes me choose pleasurable activities over what would make me truly happy. I’m not always aware that this his how I’m choosing. Sometimes I’m just lazy.

In the book Art of Happiness , Dalai Lama advises us to constantly answer the question “Will this bring me closer to true happiness?” He encourages us to change the way we look at our decisions – moving away from seeing sacrificing pleasure as denying or withholding, and towards the idea that our discipline is moving us closer to lasting happiness.

The good thing is, every instance isn’t a trade-off. Pleasure has its place in life too !  

Building Bridges

 

I only have myself to blame. I got so busy pursuing my own charms that I forgot about life. I made promises that I didn’t even try keeping. How can I ask her to promise me happiness again? It doesn’t matter now that I feel sorry for not being there, when she needed me. By what right do tell her that I am in need now?
I couldn’t go on without knowing if he even needed me. Did it matter to him anymore? He didn’t see the world like we saw it before. Maybe he learnt to see through eyes that I didn’t have. I tried to learn until I was tired. God knows I tried.
I feel tired too, of constantly being in pursuit of happiness. Happiness was here all along. Like bright sunshine in the house while I was lost among the woods. I find my way back home to find the sky cloudy, the room empty and my heart quiet and dull. Such is the irony of life.
I didn’t know if he would ever come back. I had to move on. He didn’t say a word when I said goodbye. He wasn’t even angry. I strained my ear to listen to him call out, ready to turn around. He never did. Or maybe the river between us was too wide for me to notice.
I let a lot of water flow before I thought of building the bridge across the river. She even lent me a rope but I didn’t take it. I waited for her to build it while I sat on the island. Now I don’t even know if I’ll find her on the other side.

Written by me for the Writer’s Lounge
Also penned for Inkwelldrops prompt 7

Has religion outlived its purpose?

 

He looked just like in the photograph that had been published all over the world last year, when he was captured alive in the shootout. Although I knew he was only nineteen, the sight of him still took my by surprise. There was a certain innocence in his manner that didn’t fit into the “heartless young terrorist” image the media had painted. Was it remorse in his eyes I couldn’t say, but the burden of a few dozen lives weighed heavily on his shoulders for his eyes stared at something in his shoe all the time.
I had fifteen minutes to question him and had the night to pen down the sequel to the widely read investigative report titled Is terror getting younger?
I was expecting animosity, even scorn, but his meek manner put me off guard. Is he the same gun totting young boy who held off trained national security gaurds for over two days? Could he have killed a few dozen people?
He broke the silence first
“If you want me to sign on anything, just let me know.”
“Sign what?”
“Whatever statement you want me to make and show to anybody. My country, the US, the UN … whoever”
“Why would you do that?”
“Because I don’t have answers for the questions you’ll ask me.”
“Are you telling me your innocent?”
“No”
“Since when have you been training?”
“I was sixteen and my brother was fifteen when we first went to the camp.”
“What did they teach you there?”
“Religion”
The rest of the interview has faded in my memory. Only the thought of two young boys being taught to fight, or kill rather, in the name of religion remains. He is just the symptom whose public trial is being used to satiate revengeful feelings, but how will we treat the decease? What caused it? How many more nineteen year old incendiaries will it produce?
I wonder if ‘religion’ has out lived its purpose.

In memory of 26/11

Written for inkwelldrops prompt 5

A simple question

Like most other evening parties she hosted, today’s gathering had less than a dozen people. The regulars were her close friends and the rest were warm and friendly new acquaintances or old friends visiting town. She always loved the spirit of such evenings, but the mood today was particularly introspective. It was her turn now and she sat back thinking of the years gone by.
“In those years when I was the talk of the town – rich, glamorous and successful, I thought I had a perfect life”, she said. “I liked different kinds of parties then, where everyone liked to talk about their new cars, furniture or new fashion trends. I was the most envied women in town for my exploits with the handsome men was the town’s favorite gossip”, she chuckled.
“I never thought of you as a warm person then”, said Martha, who had known her for most of that period. “But neither do I recall any dramatic event that changed your perspective”.
She nodded in agreement, continuing to gaze steadily at the window sill. “Someone asked me a simple question that made me think about my ways.” She began to narrate the conversation that ensued.
HIM: Thanks to you, we’ve successfully raised enough money for the charity.
ME: What do you think of my speech?
HIM: It was well received, but it made me wonder what your motivation was.
ME : How does it matter? I know the purpose is genuine and I feel happy helping other people.
HIM: Interesting. But your speech today was about what you did to raise funds for a ‘great’ cause.
ME: Was it?
HIM: It felt more like the pleasure of self gratification than motivation to a cause.
ME: What’s wrong with that?
HIM: Oh nothing at all. It is just about how you define your life’s purpose.
HER: I don’t understand you.
HIM: Do you equate happiness to pleasurable existence?
She fell silent, thinking once again of the significance of those words.
Sensing the somber mood, Martha picked up a spoon and tapped it against her glass saying, “does that stop us from enjoying a pleasurable evening?”
The banter returned instantly.
She watched the cheerful people around, but her thoughts went back to the strange calmness in that man’s voice several years ago. She didn’t know the real answer to that yet, but she’d learnt of several other things to be happy about.


p.s- written for prompt3 Inkwell drops.

Inspired by the book, “The impossible question”, J Krishnamurthy
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