Archive | June 2014

Devotional Perfection!

This is not about the kind of perfection we usually think as an illusion or tease people about. It’s not about the end result. It’s not about being obsessed with perfection.

It is about dedication to a process…committing to do whatever we do to the best of our abilities. Perfection is all about giving your best to the process and enjoying it all the way.

The Isha Yoga Center in Coimbatore and Akshardham temple in Delhi totally blew me over with their dedication towards perfection. At Isha Yoga center, whenever we entered a hall (about 150 of us), we would leave our footwear outside very erratically. However, by the time we came out, our footwear were always arranged so neatly, that we were able to spot them in seconds. The humility, patience and dedication with which they went about all the chores regardless of the nature of work were truly stellar. I figured that work is not big or small or important or less important. Work is just work and how we go about it makes all the difference. It appeared as if everything used to be in divine order all the time.

At Akshardham, I was enthralled by its magnitude and the architecture. It was nothing like anything I had ever witnessed. It must have taken a mammoth effort to construct the place. It has been over 8 years since construction. However, it looks as good as new even today. I loved the dedication with which it is being maintained. In this day of cell phones, cameras and laptops, nothing is allowed inside. Everything has to be left behind and you enter, just as an individual. For those who are addicted to phones, they might think they’d come out after a quick glance. But once they enter, they are not their own anymore. The breathtaking beauty and the magnificence takes over. The next many hours would be one of wonder and awe. Nothing else seems to matter more. By the end of the tour in Akshardham, one is so enchanted by the place that the sense of self becomes one with the universe and the richness of life becomes evident.

If the people at any of these places were obsessed with perfection, it would have had a very different effect. When we are obsessed with something, we get ornery and upset if things don’t go as expected. Whereas, when we are devoted to the process, we value everything that comes along. We seek to strengthen our commitment to the process and the people around in spite of all odds. It’s a humbling experience for those around as well.

I have also had the opportunity to meet some fantastic leaders who were so committed to everything they did. When I met them for half an hour, they put aside their phones and laptops and only focused on their conversation with me. It was like I was the most important person and talking to me was the most important thing for them to do at that time. I felt valued.

With the new age technology, where we could have multiple conversations simultaneously with people, I wonder if at times, am I giving the person in front of me the time, attention and importance that he or she deserves. When I am eating, I wonder if I am truly appreciating what I am eating. When I am breathing, I wonder if I am grateful for my life.

When someone asked a Zen master ‘What do you do?’ he said, ‘I eat when I eat, pray when I pray, sleep when I sleep.’ How wonderful! Intentional living – perhaps this is what it is all about. Living life’s moments perfectly rather than perfecting life itself.

Helping without rescuing…

What I love the most about being a part of this world is that we each want to be useful to someone and help each other out most often.

However, helping without rescuing – what is this about and why is it important? Imagine this –

Scene 1: A person is drowning – You go and help them and rescue them from drowning.

Scene 2: A person is learning to swim – Here, you help them learn. If you rescue them from learning, the odds are that they may not learn the skill of swimming for themselves.

Drawing a parallel, when an individual is in a crisis, out of love and concern, we may want to not only help but also rescue the individual. This usually may either create a dependency or take away the learning for the individual; or if the individual is not looking for a solution, you could be rescuing them ahead of time. As a result, you could be held to task for rescuing without being asked. So, what do we do then? Just watch? No!

Firstly, it is good to understand where is the person in terms of the problem:

–          Do they see it as a challenge (at times, we might perceive it as a challenge but the person going through may not)

–          If yes, are they looking for a solution? (This is most important. We cannot help someone find something they are not looking for – else they can give you 100’s of reasons as to why any of your suggestions might not work for their problem)

–          If yes, do they want to find the solution ‘on their own’ or are they looking to ‘you’ for some guidance?

–          If they are looking to you, are they looking for moral support, information, listening and empathy or anything else?

If we are able to gauge the individual on the above, we’d be in a better place to play a role that is required for that situation rather than merely offering what we’d like to offer. Offering anything when it is not required loses its value and can also backfire.

Offering your solution to someone is a way of rescuing. Enabling a person to come to their solution is helping.
The trouble with rescuing is that it creates dependency. The advantage with helping is that it leaves the person feeling empowered and confident that they can find their own answers. So how do we do that? How can we help without rescuing?

One of the ways to do that is by asking open ended questions which facilitate a thought process within them. We could gently nudge them towards solution thinking by framing the questions with that kind of focus – For example – how would you like to go about this situation? What do you think might work? What would you want to do differently? What would you like to have happen? and the like.

It is usually observed that people respond well to these kinds of conversations. If you want to pick a needle in a haystack, all you need is a good magnet. Likewise, you can be that magnet by asking neutral, open ended questions (without having a personal agenda) that will facilitate a thought process in the individual. People usually find their own answers when given a positive space and unconditional acceptance. Such revelations are usually liberating because it is their own resource. It may not be as quick as you offering your solution right away, but this is more sustainable in the long run as they find their own solutions and own them too. This way, you are helping them help themselves. You are empowering them!

How much is too much!

In a store I know, the owner decided to sell a particular set of t-shirts at extremely discounted rates. Reason being, there was an event coming up and last year, for the same event, free t-shirts were distributed. This time, however, since the economy wasn’t very strong, there were no free t-shirts being given. He had a noble thought of selling the t-shirts at discounted rates so that people with moderate incomes could afford them and make it for the event in those fancy t-shirts. Noble as the thought was, the store opened and people flocked in. He saw people buying shirts in 10s and 20s. And these were the seemingly well-to-do people. Curious, he asked one of them, “Sir, what is your plan with buying these 10 t-shirts?” The man replied, “These are being sold at throw-away prices. I thought I could just buy and keep them and if I ever want to gift or reward someone over the next few months or years, I could use them for that.” The store owner was shocked. With a well-meaning intent he had offered the discounts. However, most of the t-shirts got taken by the ones who already had and were buying only to hoard. Eventually, when the people who actually needed them came to the store, they were disappointed because they either did not have their sizes or the store ran out of stock.

When I heard this story, I wondered how most of our actions may be impacting the world around us similarly. Earlier, people used to save for a rainy day. However, nowadays, our saving has turned into a sort of hoarding and this very hoarding is bringing those rainy days closer to us. In the city that I live, around 40-60% of the apartments are lying vacant apparently. Owners have purchased apartments in order to save – one per every family member (and some even higher than that). However, they would need only one roof to stay at the end of a day. The others are for rent. The need is not so high though – be it for rent or for staying. The implications of this mindless buying or so called investments are huge – It is actually bordering on the lines of being a disease, a mass madness. The city is expanding on all sides; trees are being cut massively to make space for newer constructions. Global warming is increasing. Every species is endangered, including our own. This is just one such example of hoarding.

Let’s look around us and within our household. How many of the things that we have are things that we actually need and how much of it is unnecessary hoarding? Is there someone else who might need that more than us? Can we offer it to them, can we sell it? Can we make our surroundings lighter and brighter by getting rid of excesses? It’s not that we shouldn’t indulge at all. We may. However, let’s draw a line. A sanity check perhaps? Like they say, eat to live, don’t live to eat. How about acquire to live, don’t live to acquire.

Why not WHY?

When I was a child, I used to wait for someone to ask me “Why” for anything – As soon as I heard “why”, the mickey in me would jump out and say, “Because the sky is so high”, “Because you don’t know how to multiply” or “Because my grandma is making fish fry” – and so on and so forth of irrelevant rhyming answers. I used to think that was so much fun. (In fact, I still think so) :).  I am sure some of you would have also said it or heard it.

Anyhow, when I started getting into studying more about the human psyche and stuff, I started realizing why ‘WHY’ was not the best way to ask a question sometimes. It also suddenly made sense as to why we had such ridiculous answers only to ‘WHY’ questions back then. 😉

‘Why’ can be like one of those never ending, never satisfying, trick questions. Ask me why? Well, because – the sky is so high. 😛 Kidding! Because sometimes, we can build resistance in the other’s mind with a ‘Why’ question.  One can always follow up a why question with another and another. It may come across as a ‘questioning question’ than a ‘seek to understand’ question. Let’s take a few examples:

–          Why do you do that? V/s  What’s important about doing that for you?

–          Why do you love me? (one can say there’s no answer to that, and still get away with it) V/s     What do you love about me? (But, if you hear someone say there’s no answer to this…then you know….;))

–          Why did that happen? V/s How did that happen? 

–          Why are you happy? V/s What are you happy about?

Ask yourself these questions in the same order and you can see, hear & feel difference. The difference is evident in these cases, isn’t it? We are more likely to get a detailed, open response with questions like ‘what’s important about that to you’ or ‘how is that important to you?’ rather than ‘Why’. It also escapes resistance. That said, ‘Why’ isn’t a forbidden question suddenly. There may be situations where a ‘Why’ might make sense too. However, in certain other situations, there are better ways to ask a question and elicit a deeper response than by asking a ‘Why’ question.

If my Mother asks me to do something, and if I ask her why, she is more likely to say, ‘What do you mean Why?’, ‘because I said so’, ‘because you have to’, ‘because it is common sense’ and the like. Whereas, if I ask her ‘Ma, what’s important about doing that’, she is more likely to tell me truly what is important about doing it. It’s one of those small things in life that makes a key difference. In the next conversation you have, try without the ‘Why’ where not needed, and see the difference.

So, Why only ‘WHY’?

When something else is also worth a try!