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Saturday, 18 November 2017

NaBloPoMo 2017: Day 18: Give freely of your appreciation

A friend from Poona, Mrs. Mythily, wrote to me in response to my query of what has made the biggest difference to her life. She says:

“Appreciation is one thing we all like and look forward to. I, for some reason was very stingy in appreciating. Basically a very positive person, it took me a lot of years to realise this flaw in me. Once I realized, I started going out of my way to thank and appreciate people for even little things they had done, not necessarily for me, but for a general cause. I started this with persons known to me. Then it was easy to appreciate even strangers. For example, the cab driver who did not breach the red signal in spite of the loud honking. The municipal sweeper who braved the biting cold to keep our roads clean.

It not only made the receiver happy, but I too got immense joy and felt nice . So much so that now, I seek out a chance to laud. This habit helps me to see the postive in people around me and also has earned me a lot of friends. I don't know if this has made the biggest difference in my life but it has certainly made a BIG difference.”

What a lovely viewpoint, don’t you think?

If only we can momentarily even step out of the cocoon we’ve created around ourselves – my family, my child, my job, my goals, my dreams, my problems– and take a look at others around with new eyes, how much is there to learn and feel happy about

We all know how good it feels to receive appreciation. And yet, we’re very kanjoos (stingy) when it comes to giving it out. Like Mrs. Mythily pointed out, it may not be that we’re deliberately avoiding it; maybe the thought never strikes us.

But once it comes to our attention, we must try to adopt this in our lives. Along with all the other results that Mrs. Mythily has talked about, I’m sure that over time, it will completely change our outlook on things. Even in situations when there seems to be only gloom and doom, we will begin to look for the positive.

And, as the “Law of Attraction” says, the more you seek of something, the greater is the force with which you attract it into your life. If you look for things to crib about, you’ll have more of those; if you look for things to feel happy about or to praise, you’ll find more of these.

This attitude of appreciating people can work wonders in all your relationships too. Not only because your praise makes the other person happy, but also because focusing on praise-worthy things in someone helps you see them in a new light - a more positive one.

Right from when he was old enough to speak, I taught my son to say, “Thank you” to the auto driver when we exited the autorickshaw. At first, I had to keep reminding him every time. Later, it became an unconscious habit that continues to this day. And I always notice that even the most gloomy or grumpy auto drivers never fail to smile back when he says this. I like to think that by this small expression of gratitude, we’re creating one tiny bright spot in someone’s day.

I’d like to end this post by appreciating Mrs. Mythily for sharing her insights with us. And to think that this wonderful person is someone I met by serendipity during a chance encounter that lasted less than 10 hours! If you’d like to read about that encounter, do read this post of February 2016.

The more I notice the way my life is panning out, the more I come to realize that throughout my life, I’ve come into contact with several people who have enriched my life directly and indirectly. It convinces me that nothing is a chance encounter….it’s all Divine will to make me a better person….maybe someday I should write a post on this!!

Friday, 17 November 2017

NaBloPoMo 2017: Day 17: Learning from Hard Knocks

When I asked THE question before beginning this series of blog posts for November, I received replies that covered a very broad spectrum. Of all these, there were a few that surprised me. One that came from my old student Arfa, I’ve already shared in the post about forgiveness. There was another one in this same category, which said, 

“What I have understood is that we waste our time in searching for happiness. I feel that happiness is within ourselves and we don’t have to search anywhere. Success is just a part of happiness. Overall, I can say that as per my little experience, higher expectation is the key to unhappiness or a peace-less life. If we expect higher, and then, we fail to reach that level, we get depressed in such a way that we feel it difficult to get back to normal life. So, my approach is this – do what you want to do with full heart and then, whatever ups down come, accept it equally and continue to work without accepting failure. Instead of trying to impress others, we must live for ourselves.”

I’d like you to try and guess how old a person needs to be to reach these realizations. Quite probable you said 40 or 50 – because that’s the time when generally, we graduate from the School of Hard Knocks of Life and finally begin realizing these truths.

What if I told you that these are the words of yet another ex-student of mine called Ramya K.? Someone who’s in her 20’s? Would you be just as surprised as me to realize that not all youth conform to the stereotype we have of them as people who don’t realize the meaning of what’s important in life?

For a little while, after reading this message from her, I felt a little sad. To think that people are enrolling in the School of Hard Knocks of Life so early nowadays. If you remember how much heartbreak you have endured to learn your own lessons, you will understand what I mean. And yet, that sad feeling soon passed. Because I was able to see that in learning those lessons, she had proved herself to be bigger than those hard knocks. That’s when I felt proud of Ramya. And happy. Much happier than I had felt at her scoring high marks in college.

Often, we dole out advice, give suggestions, monitor what is happening and indulge in some or the other form of helicopter parenting (which, in case you haven’t heard the term, means to hover anxiously around your children – although it can be anyone else too, not necessarily only children). We want to save the people we love, from difficulties that they will face – so we try to warn them and keep them away from tough situations. But that's as futile as the efforts of Siddhartha Gautama's father....

One simple fact we fail to accept is that some things don’t register by vicarious learning. Each one has to fall himself or herself and learn how to get up and brush off the dust and walk again. Some people will ponder over the meaning of it all the very first time, and quickly learn how not to stumble. Others will need a few more falls before they learn. A few rare souls may never learn at all. 

In my own life, I've noticed that I keep stumbling in some areas until I've thoroughly learned all the lessons that need learning. Once I finish learning, it's as if all those stumbling blocks have just disappeared.

As onlookers to others' stumbling, we must be able to adopt that don’t-expect-too-much concept that Ramya spoke about. We must be able to be there, ready to help, if called upon, without waiting to say, “See? I told you…”. We must be able to deal with not being called upon to help, too. Other than this, perhaps the only other thing we can do is pray – for the loved one, and for ourselves, too….

Thursday, 16 November 2017

NaBloPoMo 2017: Day 16: Of Bears and Kings.....and Juliet, too!

You must have seen these small quizzes that circulate on WhatsApp. They have some emoticons arranged in a sequence to mean a word that you should decipher. Each set is made of particular items – movie names, movie song’s first sentence, places, personalities, sweet dishes, and other foods.

Today, one such quiz about food items was shared in a friends group. Everyone took turns guessing at the dishes. 

Take a look at No. 2. It has a picture of a bear and a king’s crown. A friend said it was “bhalushah or something like that.” Another person on the group pointed out that it’s actually called ‘Balushahi.’ Then it struck me….this was that brown, thick, succulent sweet they serve as “Baadushah” in marriages and other functions in Bangalore!

I couldn’t help exclaiming on the group chat, “Oh God! These Tamil and Kannada people call it Baadushah!!”

The lady who had pointed out the correct name laughed.

But within the next minute, I had an epiphany (sudden revelation) and was shocked at my choice of words. I, who think of myself as being very inclusive and non-discriminating and unbiased !! The way I said ‘these Tamil and Kannada people’ as if I was different from them….and to someone else, I may have sounded like I have some superiority complex too and am looking down on Tamilians and Kannadigaas…

Of course, when I thought a little more about it, I realized the reason why my words came out like that. Being born in Goa and only later transplanted to Bangalore, I had tasted this sweet only here, and heard this word “Baadushah” only from the Kannadigaas and Tamilians here. And because I had never seen or heard of this sweet in Goa, I only knew of this version.

I decided to write a blog on this today – to say that how, without our knowledge, and without intending to, we err in ways that escape our notice. And when this happens often, and we don’t bother to correct it, it leads to unhealthy stereotyping and prejudice and can set off conflicts based on some sort of group identity…

A little while later, indeed, there was a comment from another person on the group, who’s a Bangalorean, in response to my exclamation. She said, “Yes we do. There are variations in pronunciation across the country for various names. I don’t see the problem.”

Immediately, I clarified that I had just found it funny, the way the name had got corrupted, and didn’t intend to offend anyone. To her credit, she wasn’t offended and went on to say her mother tongue is Telugu, but she’s born and bred in Bangalore!

But during this conversation, what took the cake was a comment by another pucca South Indian. She said this was the first time she came across Balushahi and went on to say that somehow, she couldn’t bear to associate her “Badshah” with a bear!! What’s in a name, after all, she opined.

She’s right – the way we respond to something is dependent on so many factors and it’s name is just one of those. Like Shakespeare’s Juliet argued, if “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” why can’t a Balushahi by any other name taste just as sweet????

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

NaBloPoMo 2017: Day 15: Lessons from Grass

Once, a VIP, was heading to an educational institution to deliver a talk. As per protocol, he was provided security cover. 

As the journey began, through the windshield of his car, this VIP noticed one of the members of the security detail was standing in the moving gypsy just in front, scanning all directions. The VIP was pained and kept requesting that the officer be asked to sit down; his request was rebuffed in the name of security concerns. 

Finally, after a long drive lasting a few hours, when they reached the destination, the VIP asked to speak to that ‘standing’ security officer. This person was apprehensive, wondering what wrong he had done to be so summoned. To his surprise, the VIP shook hands with him, thanked him, asked if he was tired and wanted something to eat, and apologized, saying, “I’m sorry you had to stand so long because of me.” 

Can you guess the identity of this VIP?

Full marks if you said Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam.

Just minutes before he breathed his last, delivering a lecture on “Creating a Liveable Planet,” Dr. Kalam made time to thank the security officer who was part of the convoy that journeyed to IIM, Shillong.

We couldn’t learn of the ideas of Dr. Kalam on the topic. But frankly, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that this hero’s entire life has been a lesson on that topic. And, as we tell students during the DISHA workshops, of all his admirable qualities, the one that stands out the strongest, as in the example above, is HUMILITY.

I remembered this yet again when Kavitha Athreya, one of the DISHA coordinators wrote to me recently saying that at different points in time, she has tried to follow the principles of humility. Very humbly, she says, “I do not claim to be successful. But often, it boils down to the point that no matter what people say to you, you get back to them, with respect.”

Kavitha also sent me a beautiful video that explains this concept with an apt example.

Do watch this video. Can we all try to practise this?

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

NaBloPoMo 2017: Day 14: Don't Wait for Tomorrow - Start Today!

Have you ever thought about how your life will be, say 10 or 20 years from now? Frankly, I haven’t given much thought to it. Except for looking forward to having more time to do the things I want to, but can’t right now because of obligatory demands on my time. 

But I know of people who have their future roughly or entirely mapped out. And in today’s world with experts to guide you in ‘Retirement Planning,” we’re forced to think of it even if we don’t really feel enthused to do it ourselves. It’s good to know where you are going – because it makes you take the steps you need to take today to get there tomorrow.

Quite a few of us think that once we’re retired, we will make the time to volunteer for some social cause. 

That’s not a good idea, actually. 

For the simple reason that there’s no need to wait. You can start today itself. 

For, to be honest, who knows what tomorrow has in store for us? Will we even have a tomorrow? And will an ageing body and mind cooperate?

Sometimes, a chance encounter can set us thinking on these lines. And pearls of wisdom may be found when you least expect it, from a person whom you never looked at in that angle. This is exactly what Shri P. Venkatesh learned from an encounter with – wait for it – his barber in Coimbatore.

This barber, Shri. Subramanian, was running his saloon on all days of the week except Tuesday. On that day, he had made it a point to visit a home for the destitute, and provide 25 cuttings. He also would carry sweets or fruits he could afford, and take it for the kids in the home. Further more, he expressed his firm resolve to keep running the saloon until his two daughters were settled; after that, he had plans to take up residence in the home itself, so that he could render service full-time there!

Shri. Venkatesh, who is a Chartered Accountant by profession, had written about this on his blog. Do read the full post here to get into the feel of how it inspired him.

When I asked people for inputs for NaBloPoMo 2017, Shri. Venkatesh, who is my husband’s cousin’s husband, responded with the story of Shri. Subramanian. He told me that inspired by the latter, he has started volunteering on Saturdays with a home for children called Project Krushi. He says he got associated with this place through his friend who’s part of the project. Shri. Venkatesh intends to slowly get the children to learn basic computer and accounting skills.

I’m very grateful to him for sharing his experience and the story of Shri. Subramanian, and pray that God blesses his new resolve and helps him serve with dedication.

Shri. P. Venkatesh with two of the kids at Project Krushi

Monday, 13 November 2017

NaBloPoMo 2017: Day 13: More things about forgiveness....

Last night, I put up a post about forgiveness. Despite the late hour, messages pinged back and forth on WhatsApp; later, there were some comments on the blog itself, and on Facebook too. I will try to address most of these today. 

But before I do that, let me just say how thankful I am for these comments – it shows that people care about what I write and they think about it, and feel moved enough to share their thoughts/experiences/feelings.

First off was an old student, saying, “It's too difficult to do Ma’am. The persons who hurt me will continue to be happy; only I will continue to be unhappy. What’s the use of forgiving them, Ma’am?”

Valid point. One that strikes us all when we start on that particular journey. The answer I gave my student – we need to do it because we’re actually doing it for ourselves, not for the person who has hurt us. The more you hold on to hatred, anger and other negative thoughts, the more you burden yourself with things that will burn you up inside. Should you give another person in the world – that too someone who hurt you – so much importance, that, because of them, you lose your peace of mind?? Worth thinking about….

Second – A friend of a friend sent a similar query. What must one do when despite us trying to be forgiving, the other party does not show any regret or repentance but acts as though he/she is right? Isn’t this how an ego problem arises?

That’s right. Just because you are being forgiving, it need not evoke a sense of guilt in the other party. In fact, if you forgive because you expect such a response in return, it cannot perhaps be real forgiving – it’s more of a calculated move in a battle of minds….and such battles can go on endlessly, without any end in sight….

On a deeper note, though, one must again consider WHY he or she is being forgiving. Again, I repeat, if you choose to forgive, do understand that it is for YOUR OWN BENEFIT. Forgiveness is not a tool to control other people; it is a tool for bettering oneself.

Third – A friend wrote on Facebook: I would say only forgive because what’s the point if you don’t remember why you have forgiven.I think forgiveness should come from acceptance not ignorance.

She’s right too. Forgiveness should IDEALLY come from acceptance not ignorance. But there are two points here:

One – not all of us are at the stage where we can right away accept and forgive. But why suffer until we reach that stage? Start by trying to ignore (forget)…after some time, your abilities to accept will increase. Also, as my sister Maithili V. also pointed out on Facebook in a subsequent comment, it’s important to ignore the situation but not the person….a delicate balancing act….

Two – remembering why you have forgiven is a double-edged sword. It’s useful because as I wrote yesterday, you must remember so that you don’t repeat the same mistakes again and again. But it can be dangerous if you keep reminding yourself that you have been so great to forgive someone – because it can tend to increase your ego….which is exactly what another friend pointed out as below…

Fourth – a friend wrote on the blog: I have been following this for years now....and it works... It's not the absolute behaviour that causes the hurt in the first place, but our response to it that coils up like a servant within and unleashes the negativity....Let go..breathe..,.what I'm a trifle uncomfortable with the technique you have shared is that it focuses on the I...I forgive you..I think the aham (sanskrit for I and ego both...perhaps for a reason) is the root cause of all the sufferings... The moment you acknowledge that it isn't about the I but a larger eco system and the positivity and well being thereof, you've crossed that barrier.. Also, by attributing to others the underlying cause of a negative situation, in that, it was They who hurt you, you are externalising the problem and that's where I love the part about remembering what was it about Us that drove them to that acrid behaviour..

Again – perfectly pointed out. It is indeed our response to certain behaviours that cause us hurt. As to the technique of saying “I forgive you,” while there is a real danger of the ego this guy pointed out, it’s important to remember that when we’re just starting out on this journey of being forgiving, that’s a risk worth taking because let me first get rid of the negativity of holding grudges; then I will tackle the negativity of ego that arises from the thought of 'I am forgiving.' Also, there’s a way to avoid that ego: focus on the word 'forgive' instead of on ‘I’ or ‘You.’ In short, the journey from being someone who can’t let go to realizing it’s a part of a larger ecosystem is a huge one for many of us – it has to be crossed in small steps that are within one’s capability.

Regarding the second part – about not externalizing the problem but looking at what we did to drive them to such acrid behaviour….I’m definitely all for first introspecting into one’s own contributions and trying to reduce those. 

But as all of us will testify from personal experience, there are quite a few boorish people in the world who, for no fault of ours, will hurt us. In such cases, no amount of soul searching will help and in fact, it may lead to an unhealthy guilt that becomes the root of maladaptive behaviour. In such cases, externalizing the problem, laying the blame where it is due, is essential. Yet, at the same time, it need not become the albatross around our neck – to such people, saying “I forgive you” with the sense of acceptance, may be the only solution left to us……

…which is exactly what another friend pointed out …she wrote “The irony is that certain things that are meant to be, will be, and it just doesn't matter if we forgive or not in the first place.. we just need to get used to it.” THIS is unconditional acceptance…the stage that’s pretty far down the forgiveness lane…

Sixth – a friend wrote to say she can neither forget nor forgive certain persons responsible for some major negative events and that she prefers to keep them at one arm distance….

That’s ok. We all have our own threshold level for how much pain we can carry – once we cross that, we’ll start feeling the pointlessness of it all – that will be when one will be ready to embark on this particular journey.

The one thing here that I wanted to clarify. Keeping people who hurt us at one arm distance may be an actually good policy – because we don’t really know what are the limits of our own ability to forget or forgive. If you remember the post about letting go, the reader who wrote about the property dispute etc said that finding other avenues to grow themselves helped them stay away from heartache.

Finally, here are two messages that I got which reaffirmed my faith ….

First, a friend shared her experience:

"I was carrying a lot of anger towards my uncle. Due to some family dispute and property issues, we were not on talking terms despite living right next door. When he was nearing his end, I told myself that I HAVE to forgive him, and met him. I saw a strange expression in his eyes which I had never seen. When he died I prayed for his soul and thanked him for teaching me this lesson. After this incident, the way I felt, I can't express in words. So from then on, I am applying this where ever necessary. But mind you, we do get stuck up sometimes and I am still working on it. I just remembered this when I read your article."

I’d like to note here – when she says “I HAVE to forgive him” it’s not as if she is a God who’s going to forgive the other person for his wrongdoing. It’s rather the spirit of saying, “I must let go of my anger towards him.”

Second message made me marvel yet again at how beautifully the Universe puts things together, letting one person’s words be an instrument to heal another person…

A relative of mine wrote within minutes of posting the blog:

"I was badly hurt by a person. I could only cry. When I read those last lines, I seriously stopped crying and I didn't know a blog post can do this much to a person...Now, my mood has levelled up. I am calm and composed and I really feel far better now after reading this."

What more could a writer ask for ????

Sunday, 12 November 2017

NaBloPoMo 2017: Day 12: Forget so that you may Forgive

About two years ago, a little while after I got on WhatsApp, a person I knew long ago, got in touch with me. Let’s call him P. After exchanging the usual pleasantries, he suddenly sent a message that made no sense to me. It said, “You have helped me lot wholeheartedly in my bad times. I’m really sorry for my misbehaviour . I really behaved like mad person with you at the end.”

For a while, I was stunned. Because I couldn’t figure out what P was talking about. I racked my memory, but no answer was forthcoming. But it seemed like a sincere apology, so I decided to not make P feel insulted by saying I didn’t remember. Instead, I told him, “Please don't feel bad for those things now...everyone makes mistakes sometimes...the past is over and i have forgotten all about it...” That last bit was true in every sense – I had literally no memory of the event.

Later, I forced my brain to cough up some faint remembrance. But when things were still hazy, I asked a good friend who has an elephantine memory, if she remembered anything about this. Pat came the entire story along with her shock – how could I ever have forgotten this?

From my point of view, though, I think this is one of my biggest blessings. The ability to forget things that don’t matter. Probably, without my conscious efforts, my brain has evolved a strategy to let go of things that are not important when compared with what it has mapped out as significant goals for my life.

And being able to forget has helped me become more forgiving.

I know, I know…we hear people say things like forgive, but don’t ever forget. I think this is impossible. In the sense that if you can’t forget what ill was caused to you, it will be impossible for you to get to a stage of forgiving that person. But when you train the mind to forget wrongdoings targeted at you in the past, you can no longer hold on to grudges that you have no memory of.

Of course, I agree with those who say forgive but don’t ever forget in the sense of “Don’t forget what you did wrong to elicit a particular behaviour from the other party.” This is vital because you don’t want to go around repeating the same mistakes.

When I try to tell people about the need to forget and forgive, I sometimes get a curious response. They assume I’m telling this theoretically because I’ve never experienced what it is like to be at the receiving end of atrocious behaviour. 

Nothing can be farther from the truth. I too have faced such behaviour, but they probably don’t know about it because I’ve not made it a practice to go around spreading such narratives. For two reasons.

One – the more I talk about negative things, the deeper those get embedded into my mind, and the more difficult it becomes to forget and forgive.

Two – who knows, maybe at some time in the future, the concerned person will change his or her behaviour for the better. Why should I badmouth him or her now and spoil other peoples’ opinions of that person? Why create prejudice that can hamper another person’s opportunity to change?

For me, nothing sums up the whole emotion behind learning to forgive better than this snippet my student Arfa sent. Take a look at it…If a 23-year old can have the maturity for this thought process, why can’t all of us much older people give it a try?

Do what Arfa suggests, right now – think of one person who you think has hurt you the most. Imagine that person standing in front of you and say in your mind to that image, wholeheartedly, with no ifs and buts, “I forgive you from the bottom of my heart for having hurt me.”

Do this a few times every day for at least a fortnight, and you will be surprised at the results you see! You can thank me later 😊