Thursday, November 30, 2006

Miscellaneous observations on the last day at my old job

At this very moment there are an unspecified number of thoughts in my head that are competing to be articulated (I was going to say 'competing to be said' but then it would rhyme with 'thoughts in my head' and impart a touch of frivolity to this sentence, which was not my intention). I'm going to try and keep this short - I know I have a tendency to ramble! There's no specific sequence and I am just going to let passion determine the order of presentation of my competing thoughts, some of which may be inter-related.

First, there's the issue of behaviour and conduct in general - be it business protocol or social niceties, some people (in fact quite a few people ... hang on, actually, most people) just don't get it. It has nothing to do with geography (which part of the galaxy / solar system / world / country / town you live in) or tax bracket (how much you're worth in any given currency) or even (surprisingly) which school you went to! It does have something to do with success, however: it is inversely proportional to how successful you've become over how short a time. Please note that I am talking about sudden success here; incremental success allows you to take it in slowly. What do I mean by success? Doesn't matter. What matters is what the individual in question means by success. Which leads me to the following observation: inside each of us is an obnoxious arsehole waiting to get out, and what lets that genie out of the bottle is sudden, immense success! A wise man (Abraham Lincoln, perhaps) once said something to the effect that the true character of an individual is brought out not when he is down and out but when he is hugely successful. Alas - it is so rare to find people with even a modicum of social graces, that the few one comes across, one treasures. Even if those people are otherwise not one's 'type' (in terms of common interests, etc.)

The second thought, which is probably, in some 'spaghettistical' way (another word of my coinage, to mean: 'similar in nature to an entangled mass of spaghetti strands') related to the first, is about Talent and Luck, and their role in success. And about Self-Actualisation. I would sum it up as follows, the metaphor being a card game: (1) You are not responsible for the cards you are dealt - this is obvious (2) You, and you alone, are responsible for your play - also, obvious (3) You are free to quit the game for any reason whatsoever, it is entirely your call (4) If you want to stay, you may want to learn to play well so you don't go through the trauma of failure unless you want to wallow in it (5) If you like the game, you may want to learn to play well in order to experience the joy in winning, or at the very least, indulge yourself in the art of fine card play.

So where's the connection with Talent, Luck and Self-Actualisation? Well, duh ... Luck - the cards you're dealt (you could get a series of lousy deals: sorry, bad luck). Talent - what you do with them (great players can win with a losing hand too). Self-Actualisation - reaching a state of being where in each deal, you are able to take the hand you're given, set yourself a goal or a target (which may be 'win' / 'lose' / 'pass' that round, based on that hand, your capability of which you are fully aware, and knowing what you want, of which also you are fully aware) and give it the best you've got. In this state, the word potential makes no sense. You ARE in the present, what in the past was considered as your 'hidden potential'. To me, that's success.

Lastly, on a different note, I was touched by the going-away gifts I got from my team: books, music, chocolate, a lamp and a large greeting card with everyone's messages on it. I'm a fairly private person at work, though I do choose to make friends as well, sometimes. Somehow they found out that the piano and the guitar are prominent instruments in my life, and that I like classical music. So they got me a Richard Clayderman CD and another one called 'Hawaii' featuring acoustic guitar by an unknown musician, with backing arrangements. Content: instrumental version of pop songs old and new - mostly romantic ballad -type stuff. I was so touched by the gesture and the effort that must have gone into buying these gifts. The book was something about the 'Present' by the guy who wrote who stole my cheese or whatever. I flipped through it and it had an uncanny resemblance to 'The Power of Now' which I reviewed (rather harshly, I may add) in an earlier blog post. Maybe it's me - maybe I attract these themes. Or maybe these topics echo the zeitgeist. But this book is in story form and held my interest from the word go. Maybe I will learn something from it! Thank you, team.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Unbearable Lightness of Paperback Gravitas

Birthdays are great fun and I really enjoy celebrating mine. For two reasons – first, I like celebrations in general (read parties) involving any or all of: good food / fine wine / nice music / interesting conversations with interesting people etc., and second, I like my life and so I like celebrating the day I was given it; I like who and what I am, I like what I have grown to become and am evolving towards. I am truly grateful that there are people out there who wish me well, come over to my home when I throw a party and bring me gifts on my birthday. I got some wonderful gifts this year, and one of them was this book called ‘The Power of Now’ written by a gentle and benign looking gentleman called Eckhart Tolle. And you may treat this blog post as a kind of a book review.

If your life is troubled you should read this book. Let me rephrase that (everybody's life is troubled, to some extent) – if there’s a lot of sturm und drang in your life, you should read this book. You will know if this book is working for you, if you are able to purge all negative thoughts and feelings about the past and the future that might be tormenting you. And post this cathartic deep-pore cleansing, you are able to live in the 'Now' – a state of joy (a.k.a. bliss) that transcends the duality and cyclicality of pleasure and pain that we experience through all the trappings of a worldly life. The Now is the only real thing … all else is just something in your Mind that your Mind has created because it needs to create those things to feed itself on. Badd Mind!

This book is ideal for the new age 'liberati' (a word I’ve just coined as a play on ‘literati’, to describe those who seek liberation by reading books). Maybe they should make a new category called spirit-lit and put this book there. Don’t get me wrong - there’s tons of useful stuff in here: sound advice to people who get all knotted up with regrets about their past and/or bent out of shape with worries about their future. It tells such people in such situations to take a deep breath and let go. To not let their mind get the better of them by running away with self-flagellation for misdeeds or with its own doomsday forecasts, but instead to focus on the moment and recognise the beauty in the present and the joy in just being. And I would fully agree with such advice. Kind of suggestive of the Latin expression 'Carpe Diem', but I didn't actually see that written in so many words anywhere in the book. But then I must confess I haven't actually read the whole book - only browsed through it and that too not sequentially. The Question/Answer format makes it easy to read at random, a few pages at a time. Plus there's a lot of repetition of ideas and themes (by the author's own admission), so if you missed something it will probably pop-up again later. And the language is simple and lucid so it can be speed read too. It may not have the lyrical lilt of a Khalil Gibran or the picturesque imagery of a Richard Bach, but P-of-N is prophetic all the same.

Why then, do I sound disdainful? Well, for one there’s this kind of Nirvana-in-ten-easy-steps feel about this whole thing. Einstein once said “Make things as simple as possible but not simpler”. To people who live in Euclidean space on a Newtonian planet, it's easy to explain gravity using falling apples. It is far more difficult to explain space-time warps caused by intense gravitational forces around super-dense matter, using apples or oranges. This does not discourage laudable efforts by people of science to use simple models involving rubber sheets bending around a heavy marble to illustrate space-time curving around strong gravitational fields or blowing balloons to illustrate the expanding nature of the universe after the Big Bang and such, but unfortunately such explanations spawn more questions than answer existing ones. And what is true about gravity is true for gravitas too. First, spiritual experience (any part of it - from awakening through attainment) cannot be mass distributed. When it does, it turns into either a cult or a religion or an institution or ... a business! Second, there's gotta be room for questioning. You can't shut the reader up by saying sorry, no questions, no thinking, do not apply your mind to what you're reading.

Which brings me to the other thing. This book stops you from questioning (maybe doesn't actually say that in so many words, but the discouragement to question is implicit everywhere). The message is that these thoughts you’re thinking and the questions you are asking are all the work of your feeble brain trying to understand the phenomena of Life using Reason, something that is beyond the grasp of the Mind. Here's where I have a problem agreeing. I saw phrases like "thinking is a disease" which could easily persuade troubled readers (remember our target audience?) to stop thinking about their lives altogether. And to forget the past and the future, as the book suggests. And to immerse themselves fully in the Now. My problem is that this could potentially remove any sense of responsibility the reader might have. Dropping the past and the future directly causes you to drop responsibility for what you did and what you are about to do. OK, maybe some people take on more responsibility than they should, and that screws them up. Agreed. In such cases, the solution lies in their rationalising their portfolio of responsibilities. In fact, more thought - better thought, is to be applied towards doing that, and not lack of it. The key lies in the ability to balance freedom with responsibility. 'Stop thinking' is a slogan for escapists, to my mind. In contrast, 'Stop brooding and get on with life' is good solid practical advice to most anybody, because we all need it at some time or other. So what's the big fuss about, if this is all there is to it?

Last criticism: Nowhere in the entire book (which, again I should remind you, I have not actually read word-by-word sequentially from start to finish), did I find that one most vital element - humour! Benign and gentle looking as he may be, he never smiles in his pictures. In fact his eyes look sad. At no point in my reading (OK, browsing) of the book did I come anywhere close to even chuckling at anything that I read.

So, all in all, this is a strange and rather paradoxical combination of a book - too much gravitas in form and delivery, but not enough weight in the content, which is kept light so that it can go around and reach more people, but is not fun. There are probably more oxymorons in my last sentence than I care to count, but you get my drift. Speaking for myself, I have no place for things (light or heavy) that don't make me smile or chuckle or better still ... laugh! Certainly not for spiritualists who take themselves and their (pre)occupation too seriously!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Zen and the Art of Management By Doing Nothing

It's been over a week now, that I've been waiting for some people at work to get back to me on something. (Sorry to be so vague, but I really can't reveal much more about this, than that, at this stage.) It is important to me that this gets done soon, because it impacts my future. Which is why I keep looking for a sign that somebody somewhere has decided something and we can now move to the next step. Frankly, I don't care what they decide - I just want them to do it within a reasonable time frame. I am ready with action plans for each possible outcome for all the conceivable outcomes I could think of (including 'nothing'), given my intrinsically worrisome nature (which, according to someone I know who has a penchant for hyperbole, sometimes borders on paranoia) compounded by many years of dealing with bullshit artists of all kinds (ranging from the wildly exotic spiritual tripper to your plain old garden variety overambitious and highly political overachiever) that have taught me to expect the unexpected, and further exacerbated by a fairly vivid imagination that can conjure up the bizarre from scratch - right 'out of the box'. And by now I am equally detached, emotionally speaking, from all of them (well, ok, almost). So it really doesn't matter to me which way the cookie crumbles. I write this, then, not out of pain but out of ... something akin to amusement, actually, if you ignore my slightly disparaging tone.

Some people just can't make a decision. Or take one. So they do nothing. Some others can't act on decisions already arrived at, so they do nothing too. Quite often it turns out, in let's say 3 out of 5 cases, problems go away (or so it seems) even when nothing is done. So the wise among the foolish say "See? It went away without us having to do anything". Years of practice leading to mastery of this approach towards dealing with problems, gave birth to the wonderful art of Management By Doing Nothing (MBDN) - a proven methodology that saves time energy and money spent on thinking (valuable benefit for those are intellectually challenged), especially thinking about complex things that really matter (valuable benefit for those who don't know what those things are and are scared by complexity), then arriving at decisions (valuable benefit for those who are accountable for decisions but shudder at the very thought of making them) and then acting upon those decisions (valuable benefit for those who don't feel empowered to implement any decision unless it has been agreed to by all members of the Security Council and ratified by majority vote in the General Assembly) and still .... a methodology that delivers ... (drum roll) .... at least 60% of the time!

Strangely and paradoxically, what the ancient Chinese (Taoists) called 'wei wu wei' (which literally means 'action without action' or 'effortless doing') is indeed a profound philosophy, also involving a very different way of conducting one's life. (More on this at if you’re interested.) When I used to practice T'ai Ch'i Ch'uan, I understood this as the minimal action required to bring about desired results. In a lot of cases that involved doing nothing. This is not like the MBDN methodology at all. This 'doing nothing' has a conscious decisiveness underlying it ... and an action involving non-action. A decision to act by not acting. To act by letting happen. To intervene when necessary and that too only to the extent required. This involves a profound understanding of, and deep insights into, situations. And a fine appreciation of the concept of causality and its manifestations in the sometimes deterministic, often probabilistic (if not stochastic) and usually chaotic world in which those situations occur. Apparently these ancient folks understood chaos theory far better than most of us do today.

For those familiar with the 'butterfly effect' ... sometimes all you have to do to save a whole world is to not trample on a butterfly. For those not familiar with the butterfly effect - go figure!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The 'Why' Chromosome

With some reluctance, and after several requests over the last few weeks, I let my 5 year old son watch me shave this morning. I'm sure this experience is different for every father and son, as unique as our individual DNA imprint. However, all such experiences of all fathers and sons (especially fathers who were curious sons once) will most likely have one element in common -this is that one bonding moment between father and son that has always been, and will always be, very very special, something that only another who has been through can understand. It's that feeling of being a man (not celebrated as much these days - certainly not the way women celebrate the feeling of being a woman), and more so, a man with a son who wants to be like him (in at least one department - shaving!) or, seen from the son's side, a wannabe man with a father he wants to be like (in at least one department - shaving!)

He was full of questions about shaving today, as he always is, about everything. Why gel was different from foam. Why I had both. Why I picked the gel today. Why I don't wear a mustache or beard. Why I didn't shave against the grain (of course, he didn't quite articulate this question as it appears here). Why my razor had two blades. Why it didn't hurt. Why I used after-shave. And of course, the big question - Why boys got facial hair as they grew older and girls didn't.

His continuous barrage of questions (some really tough ones which have me groping around for suitable responses) can be quite trying at times, but I have discovered I have learnt much from him. Every time he asks me a question and I turn around and look at his face, I am struck by his sense of wonder. By his ability to ask questions freely and uninhibitedly. The combination of curiosity, awe and innocence in his eyes. The anticipation and excitement of future experience. And the impatience to get there. Those are my moments of truth. Moments when I realise that questions have stopped popping up in my mind, and even those that do, I have stopped asking. Just as I've stopped looking to the future with excited eyes.

Thanks, son, for helping me re-learn the ability to question, and to feel excited about what is yet to come.