Tag Archives: life

Musings Personal Growth

To flourish, how much do we depend on the state of society?

Recently, I was reading a book – The Immortals of Meluha. Here is an interesting short excerpt from it  :

Any successful society needs stability. Stability allows a person the freedom of choice. People can pursue their dreams only when they are living in a society where survival is not a daily threat.

In a society without security and stability, there are no intellectuals or businessmen or artists or geniuses. Man is constantly in a fight or flight mode. Nothing better than an animal.

There appears to be some truth to these lines and they got me thinking.

We are the creamy layer. The simple fact that we have an internet connection on which we are reading and sharing this article makes us a part of a fortunate few on this planet. There are so many who are born into a life of extreme poverty, strife and a lack of opportunity. There life and dreams can be cut short by a single stray bullet or disease or any of a number of umpteen reasons that don’t bother us, the creamy layer, as much.

Srinivasa Ramanujan, the great Indian mathematician died at an early age of 32 due to tuberculosis, that did not have a cure then. He solved many mathematical problems at that young age. These problems had baffled many eminent mathematicians of his time and before. Some of his writings are still studied to help find meaning in other complex problems. Who knows what else he could have accomplished, had he lived longer. But he succumbed to something out of his control.

People as a collective

On a collective scale, people seem to flourish more in stable societies. We all know of a lot of famous entrepreneurs, geniuses from the developed Western world today. But how many such people do we know of from, say Afghanistan? Or The Congo? Or Somalia?…

It seems that as a collective, it is important we try to create such a society. A society that provides minimum survival for all, a society that allows people to follow their own calling, to express themselves in ways they want to.

The dilemma

In spite of all that I said above, I have also believed in a person’s control over his destiny.

This belief and attitude is best summed up in the last lines of a very popular and inspiring poem, Invictus :

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

The Law of Attraction, which I consider a very helpful perspective and which explains a lot of my experiences, states that a person fully creates his/her experience in this world. It says that, from the smallest events that happen in our lives, to the big and seemingly uncontrollable ones, everything is the mere manifestations of our repeated thoughts. Hence, it implies one’s life is absolutely and totally in one’s own control.

This dichotomy raises some questions in my mind –

Exactly how much of stability does one need, if any?

From what little I know of famous and successful people, it seems quite a few of them were not born in the most secure of conditions. Examples that come to my mind are Ramanujan himself, Dhirubhai Ambani, Dale Carnegie and Wilma Rudolph. They seemed to work against odds to get what they wanted. Even a lot of successful people, who were born in to a relatively stable life(Eg. Bertrand Russel, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Steve Jobs), embraced instability and insecurity often in pursuit of their calling.

It seems that insecurity could not keep them from achievement and progress. On the contrary, it some time seems to be the very thing that drives these people to achieve extra ordinary feats.

Looking from the other end, it also seems that too much of comfort spoils people. Obesity, which seems to be a big problem in the ‘secure’ Western world is only now coming up in India, that too only in the progressive and more ‘secure’ cities.

So what is the right mix of stability and uncertainty? Too little seems to make man an animal in a fight for survival. Too much seems to spoil him and leaves no reason to strive.

When I asked my wife whether she likes to have security in her life, she said Yes. When I asked her whether she would prefer the utmost form of security, where survival and all the things required for a comfortable life were guaranteed, she was not so sure.

She likes adventure, trying new things. And adventure always means a bit of uncertainty and insecurity. If things were to be made very easy, she might loose the drive to do anything.

It seems to me that struggle cannot be escaped, it should not be escaped. It is essential for growth, it is essential to find meaning and satisfaction. Only the type of struggle differs according to circumstance.

To what extent does a man’s fate depend on circumstance?

Ramanujan died of tuberculosis at the early age of 32. Society at that time did not have a cure for it. While Ramanujan’s end was probably out of his hands, the effort he made to come out of the anonymity of the remote reaches of India were his own. They probably came out of a will to reshape his destiny, a determination to do something, rather than out of a sense of helplessness at the lack of opportunities and bad luck.

So, does man depend on the state of society?

I suppose it boils down to which perspective an individual decides to believe in. To illustrate this point, I will recount a story here that a friend of mine told me, when I put the same question to him :

A man went to a learned sage and asked him – “O learned one, to what extent is my destiny determined by fate and how much depends on my own efforts?”

The learned one smiled and asked the man to stand on one leg. The man complied.

Next, the learned one asked him to lift up his other leg too. The man tried all he could but failed.

“How can I lift both my feet in the air Guru ji?” he asked.

“You are right my son, you cannot. You have both the legs at your disposal. The choice to lean on one rather than the other is all yours!”

The man understood the meaning of the wise man’s words and left satisfied.

 

Until next time…

Image: Vlado

Personal Growth

Understanding and dealing with reality

Many people feel held back by the reality of their situation. Some want to get a more satisfying job but are stuck with the reality of their present demanding job that does not allow for preparations. Some want a peaceful marital life, but are stuck with the reality of an irate, un cooperative spouse. Some want to be rich but are stuck with the reality of their present poor lives that allows few options and opportunities. And so on and so forth…

The interpretation of reality is very personal and unique for each one of us

Most of the time, when we are talking of the reality of our situation, we are actually talking about our own interpretation of it.

What is also interesting is that all of us have our own different interpretations of reality.

As a kid, I would often visit my mother’s village(some 3 hours train journey from New Delhi). I met an old lady there who was convinced that the moon is not very far from the Earth and is inhabited by dwarfs. These dwarfs live by drinking water off a well. She could see and point out the well on the moon. No amount of passionate explanations from me and my brother, backed by our geography and physics lessons, would make her believe otherwise.

For those who believe in God, no amount of scientific explanation is enough to make them believe otherwise. In fact, a lot of them have their own, ‘scientific’ explanations of how God is an irrefutable reality. Come to think of it, the idea of God itself has so many different interpretations.

Why are we so obsessed with reality?

And why do we, the humans, seek to understand reality so badly? Animals don’t seem to be bothered by it, they just take and respond to whatever comes. It is perhaps because we can see that it affects how our lives go, how we feel, what we are able to do, accomplish, experience.

So, to ensure our own happiness and peace, we try to understand the reality of things around us. We want to be able to manipulate and control it.

This is a concept agreed upon by many. Understanding reality is a big part of growing up. We are encouraged by everyone to get a better hold of reality and learn how to manipulate it.

In the wake of this popular ‘common sense’, it is interesting to note that there have been some great minds who have pointed out that this approach is upside down. They say it is not the external reality that affects our internal state but the other way round – it is our internal state that affects the reality outside(or, at least, our interpretation of it).

The outer world represents our inner world

According to the people who believe in this, each one of us is creating our reality by the thoughts, feelings and emotions we hold dominantly.

There are 2 schools of thought among those who believe in this maxim. One can possibly be called the extreme believers, who say you are fully responsible for creating all your life experiences and situations. The other group, the moderates, say that you are responsible for the emotional and physical response you have towards the situation.

So, for example, if you have an irate and un cooperative spouse, the extremists would say you have manifested him/her in your life with your own thoughts. You have created this experince with your thoughts. The moderates might say that, while you can not control fully whom you come in contact with and how they behave with you, you sure can control how you respond to their actions. They might not agree that you are fully creating your reality with your thoughts, but they will agree that your thoughts(your emotional response to situations) decide how you ultimately end up feeling about yourself and your life.

So, whether it is a moderate or an extremist, both agree that…

It is just a thought that we are ever dealing with

What ever the problem with your reality, it is just a thought that you are dealing with. The problem because of an irate spouse, or a bad boss, or your low image of yourself, or your guilt over a life not spent well, or your unfulfilled desires for riches… they are all just thoughts in your mind.

And thoughts can be changed, at the drop of a hat. If you are unhappy about something right now, you have a choice to replace these thoughts of unhappiness with something else that you can be happy and grateful about.

Well, maybe I over stated. It is not just a simple change in thoughts, it has to be a bigger change in thinking habits and thought patterns. And breaking old patterns and habits takes conscious, continuous effort.

But the point here is not that. The point is, it is always and always just a thought. Your regrets of the past, your worries about the future, your anger, guilt, sadness, longing.. these are all just thoughts. And you have absolute power over them.

Now since you are habituated to them, you might disagree with me here, you might feel you are not in control. A simple test can prove the truth about this. Repeat slowly in your mind the words that follow. Feel their meaning, do this for a minute.

I am grateful that, of all forms of life, I have recieved a human form that gives me infinite possibilities.

I am grateful for living in a time when life has been made so easy to live that I don’t have to fight for every next meal. I have time to pursue higher goals.

I am grateful for having facilities and comforts(internet, phone, TV, automobiles, air travel, running water, electricity, air conditioning, ready made clothes, toilets with a flush!) that people just a couple of hundred years ago could not have imagined.

I am grateful for having been born into a such a privileged life, a life privileged not only among other animals, but among humans as well.

Now, how do you feel? Is sadness, want and anger still there? If you really tried to feel the words, the answer is probably ‘No’.

What you just witnesses was the absolute control you have over your thoughts, and hence your experience of this world. You made a conscious choice to read this post, you made a conscious choice to feel the words written above, just as you make a conscious choice sometimes to think of the people and situations that hurt you, just as you sometimes focus on all the things that are not right in your life.

*****

It is your own thoughts that decide how you feel. You have the power to completely control your life experience. If you believe the extremists, you can mould your whole life just with your thoughts. Even if you don’t, you will probably acknowledge that a change in attitudes will render you better prepared to make use of whatever opportunities life presents you with.

Until next time…

Image: Salvatore Vuono

Personal Growth

How to handle problems you have with society

Those of you who have been in India, would know how unruly the traffic can be here. Long ago, when I was a kid, a Reader’s Digest issue ranked India’s traffic the second worst in the world(the worst was China’s). Personally, I like following traffic rules. When I spent 3 years in the US, my faith in traffic rules strengthened and I sort of got used to seeing people following them.

After I came back about a year ago, I had to face the same unruly traffic again. And the experience, as you can expect, has not exactly been exhilarating.

I usually approach the road with some trepidation. While on the road, I often find myself muttering under my breath… That slow moving truck’s driver should have the sense to drive to the left, that auto driver, spewing loads of smoke from his auto, should get his exhaust fixed. Why doesn’t that motorcycle rider stay on his side of the road? Why does anybody not follow rules?

I know this anger does little good. Right and justified though I feel, all this judging and labeling people does little to solve the issue. The whole activity just causes me a lot of negativity. Over a period, it can become an unconscious habit that just keeps sapping my precious life force.

No, just being angry about the world around us doesn’t solve our issues. We have to do something else. There are 3 courses of action I see possible here :

1. Moving to a better place

When I left Bangalore, and India, and went to the US, I found things far better. I enjoyed the change. I was happy to be far away from the maddening cacophony of India.

But, over time, I got a feeling that the ghosts I ran away from, had not left me. I feel, no matter how many problems we have with the place we grow up in, we have a strong connection with it. We may move to pastures that look greener, but we know deep inside our hearts that we left a problem unsolved.

We will have new learning and realizations in a new place, but we will not feel we have expanded into our true selves until we bring these realizations back to solve problems at our own place.

Someday, we have to just turn around and come back home.

2. Adjusting with what is

There is the option of making peace with what is. You understand that things are the way they are and stop fretting about them. You instead focus on adjusting to them.

But this doesn’t seem to fully solve the issue either. Supressing and ignoring our feelings makes them only grow in intensity. They will eventually come out, as a sudden unwelcome outburst or as some disease.

Ignoring the discomfort is as harmful in the long run as just staying angry with the situation.

3. Working towards a change

This option involves making efforts to change the way things are. Instead of running away from the issue, or just fretting over it, you actually start working towards a solution. In my own way, through this blog, I am trying to make people more conscious and responsible. But is it even possible to change all these people? How long does it take to accomplish such a mammoth task?

The goal may seem too high and impossible, but I have seen that the effort itself makes us happy. You don’t have to wait till the goal is reached. As soon you start working towards the change you want, you start feeling a sense of positivity.

It helps to use acceptance along with this step. You don’t fight what is, you just understand it, accept it and keep working at it. When you accept, the anger and the resistance subsides. And as you keep working at it, peace and happiness settle in.

A bigger question

When you decide to bring about change, you have to ask yourself a bigger question. This is a change you want. Maybe a few of your friends, those in your age group, those in your financial bracket etc, want this change too. But are you sure the rest of the society wants this change?

A lot of us like to believe whatever we think is right. A lot of us believe that our idea of growth and betterment is shared by the masses. But we have to realize people have different ideas and preferences. Have you ever thought that maybe, just maybe, the majority of people just don’t want the change you do?

Bringing about change involves talking to people, understanding them, eastablishing a connection. Then you understand what the whole wants, and work towards it. Sometimes, what the whole wants goes totally against your deepest desires. In such a case, you have a choice to make, leave, or adjust, or continue trying to discuss with people.

Strengthening connections

I believe the more we realize ourselves, the less of a feeling of separate interests we have. If we make efforts continuously, our interests will merge more and more with that of the whole.

All of us are working towards the same goal of happiness. Others may have had different experiences and, with their limited human understanding, they have formed some ideas about what makes them happy. This is what we all do. If you go to someone telling them that their ideas are all wrong, they are foolish, you can hardly ever find a solution.

You yourself are a human and may have holes in your understanding. We are usually not as right as we like to think we are.

You have to practice humility if you want to bring about change. When you meet others with humility, accepting that you can be wrong too, acepting that there may be a chance for you to learn from this person and grow, you do more good to everyone involved. You create better, friendlier connections, you keep growing yourself and you keep finding solutions that help all and are accepted by all.

*****

So what are the issues that bother you greatly? And what course have you chosen to deal with the discomfort?

Image credit: Teerapun

Personal Growth

Overcoming distress

It can probably run faster than light, our mind. It runs incessantly, throughout the day. It starts before our feet touch the ground in the morning and does not stop until they are off it at night. It sees everything, it weighs everything, it judges, assesses, makes sense of…

And yet, this act of judging and assessing often feels inadequate, even after many years of practice and refining. In fact, it may itself cause much distress. read more »

Career Courage Life's Purpose

What is the easiest path in life?

I have always liked taking the easy route. And don’t we all do? If there is a way to do something in 5 mins, why choose a way that requires 10? If you can send an email, why write a letter?

People always try to make it easy for themselves. They try to get the best education, the best jobs, build their house as early as they can, create a sufficient and safe bank balance. They do this all so that they can have an easy life.

But still a lot of them end up bored, listless and confused. Why is this so? Is safe and easy not good for us? Is it that we require difficulty in our lives to enjoy it? read more »