Don’t kill beautiful minds with poor parenting and poorer leadership

Don’t restrict your child’s natural curiosity to explore the world. Be an empowering parent – let go and watch your child grow!
A friend of mine from my college days reached out to me. He lives in Mangalore. He wanted me to “inspire some confidence” into his young, 16-year-old son. We met for coffee last evening. I found the boy to be very cheerful, very positive and extremely clear about what he wanted to do. He said he loved science – all three subjects, Physics, Chemistry and Biology. He aspired to study medicine (when he finished his 12th/Junior College in Mangalore) at the Armed Forces Medical College, Pune. He wanted to be a doctor and wanted to continue sketching (his hobby) all his Life. Now, what do you tell a child who’s got all his plans mapped out? I told him this: “Be curious always. Never settle into a comfort zone. Keep seeking, keep learning, keep enquiring. Nobody can motivate you. Motivation is an inside job. Whenever you feel distracted, think of what will happen to your long-term goals. Understand that distraction is not a sin. It will only delay your journey to your dreams and goals. When you refocus on your goals, you will let go of all that which distracts you.” The young lad smiled back at me. He appeared to have understood what I had to say.
“Are you on facebook,” I asked him.
“No,” he replied sheepishly, while looking at his dad questioningly.
My friend piped in: “His (Junior) College principal has made him sign an undertaking, an oath actually, saying for the next two years he will not get on to facebook or use a mobile phone – neither at College nor at home. The principal wants to ensure that his College’s success rate to get students into premier “professional courses” is never diluted. And I support the principal’s stand wholesomely.”
I disagreed with my friend. I said that both facebook and mobile phones are enablers. They are both tools, a way of engaging with the world, I suggested. But my friend cut me short. He was clear his son should not be “corrupted” with a view that “encouraged being on facebook”. I decided not to force my view. That ended my conversation with the young chap; for the rest of the evening, my friend and I went on to talk about our lives and times…
On my auto-rickshaw ride back home from the cafe, I reflected on the myopic perspective that both parents and teachers have that inhibits the natural curiosity that children have. In today’s world, when there is so much information available on fingertips, why would anybody want to deny their children access to that information? Yes, the internet can lead you to porn sites as much as it can lead you to wikis on various subjects. Being on facebook can connect you to friends and family who share experiences and learnings that can enable you to gain an insight into how the world thrives. Yes, you can end up adding avoidable people as friends on facebook if you are not prudent. But I feel a parent’s job is to help children develop this discerning point of view. Empowering with choice, while explaining consequences, is much better than restricting children from doing things that they will be naturally curious to do. This whole view that facebook and mobile phones will corrupt a child and ruin his or her Life is reflective of the parent’s/teacher’s poor quality of thought. In my humble opinion, the moment you restrain a child, you are planting the seed of rebellion or are encouraging the child to operate with deceit. Because, whatever you bluntly deny – without adequate logic and conviction – children will find the means, one way or the other, to access it. A better approach would be to allow the child freedom of choice, have continuous conversations and if there is an over indulgence from the child, only then take restrictive steps. To employ a blanket judgment that all children will get “distracted” from academics or that they will go “astray” if they are on facebook or if they use mobile phones is poor parenting and poorer leadership.

Another point: for heaven’s sake, let’s stop obsessing over “professional” courses, “safe” careers and “95+ percentage strikes”. What we need teachers to do is to inspire the spirit of excellence in children and not to flog them to deliver grades. What we need parents to do is to imbue good values in their children and not to make academically-proficient nerds out of them. Finally, here’s the bottom-line: This is not a case for facebook or mobile phones. This is about raising beautiful, intuitive minds. Empowering children will nurture their curiosity and creativity, restraining them will only make vegetables and rebels out of them. 

Managing stress is just a mind game!!

A simple way to beat stress and bring peace and order to your daily Life: at all times, irrespective of what the circumstance may be, do what is important and do it very well.
There are always tens of things to be done on a daily basis. Some of these things are routine stuff like driving yourself to work or checking your mail. Or doing the dishes or dropping the kids off to school. In between these kind of tasks we often get rude shocks, unexpected events that need to be attended to urgently__a flat tyre, a sudden visitor at work or at home, a distress call from a friend or an urgent customer situation. And then there are the important stuff to be handled: presentation on new market strategy at work, college admission forms to be filled in for your older one, a gym routine that you have to keep up and the re-tiling of your entire kitchen floor. Mondays ~ Sundays, this story of frenzied living plays itself out, week after week. The routines, the emergencies, the important, unavoidable, non-negotiable stuff may keep changing the way it may surface in our lives, but their nature is the same. Their nature is to bring stress. To put us in a permanent pressure cooker state. Leaving us cooked completely!
So, where’s the room to live intelligently, you may wonder? There sure is: Listen to stress therapist and thinker Danzae Pace: “Stress is the trash of modern Life – we all generate it but if you don’t dispose of it properly, it will pile up and overtake your Life.” The way to dispose of stress is to continuously be mindful of what you do. Each day, do only one or two important tasks. Don’t crowd your days. And know, be aware, that each day will have to have its share of routine tasks, however mundane they may be, and again, each day will throw up its share unexpected events, meetings and twists. When you are aware and mindful of each moment, focusing on one activity at a time, your stress levels are easily managed. Stress may still rear its ugly head, every time an unplanned event surfaces, but your mindfulness helps you respond to it intelligently than react to it violently! Know that your Life’s Inbox will never be empty. There will be newer tasks and newer shocks always coming your way. The best way to live your daily Life is to not constantly think too far ahead. Within a day’s schedules, look at what’s most important and do it well, in that day’s circumstance or situation. If you had an important business meeting planned for the afternoon, but at lunch time if you got a call saying your father’s been taken to hospital, focus on being at the hospital, fully mindful to your prayerful presence there. Don’t focus on losing that important business deal or not meeting your targets for the month. Focus instead on the routine tasks of having a friend pick up your kids’ from school or even catching up on some sleep.
There are no techniques to manage stress. It is just a mind game. Close or minimize one window of your mind and open another to work on the given circumstance. But whatever you choose to do, do it well. Do it in peace. The intelligent living perspective is to live well, and live really well, till the end, whenever it arrives!

Be mindful: have a ‘serene encounter with reality’!

Whatever you do, do it with total immersion. Enjoy the process of doing what you are doing. That’s called mindfulness. And that’s the key to inner peace.
Doing the dishes, to me, is a meditative practice
Yesterday my daughter, a psychology graduate, caught me dusting a thin layer of dust on top of a cupboard in our kitchen. She quipped, “Dad, cleaning around the house makes you happy, doesn’t it?” I smiled at her. And confessed that indeed it does make me happy. In fact, to me, house-keeping, is a meditative practice. It is not a chore. Yes, it does become a challenge when you have to juggle with your other schedules and have to try and fit in quality time for house-keeping. But I have realized that I am very mindful when I am cleaning up around the house. I go about it calmly, methodically and, however physically strenuous it may get at times, I enjoy the process. I love doing the dishes or cleaning surfaces, I invest time to get the toilets to be squeaky clean and generally love the idea of having a dust-free home environment – something that’s so difficult in Indian conditions and so requires being at it continuously, consistently!
I have discovered that when you are mindful of whatever it is that you are doing there’s great inner peace and joy. And no work or task is menial or burdensome as long as you don’t treat it as a chore. In fact, immersion really means being completely involved in, engaged in, and mindful of whatever it is that you are doing. Of course, it is possible that you may not always like to do some things. But when you don’t have a choice – and you have to also do what you dislike doing – if you choose to be mindful, you will get through that task or activity even more efficiently than when you are resisting it.
The Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hahn, a.k.a Thay, says it so beautifully: “In mindfulness one is not only restful and happy, but alert and awake. Meditation is not evasion; it is a serene encounter with reality.” The essence of what he has to say is contained in the last phrase – ‘it is a serene encounter with reality’. Most of the time, almost all of us, resist our reality. We don’t like what we are going through. Or we dislike what we have to do. Or we are so engrossed in dealing with our ‘extended’ realities that we miss the magic and beauty of everyday living. Thay recommends that we must awaken to the reality in each moment. And not just to be stuck with our ‘extended’ reality. For instance, if you keep worrying about your fourth stage cancer and the fact that you will soon die, how will you enjoy a sunrise? So, in this context, your cancer is your ‘extended’ reality. But the more immediate one is the sunrise. Enjoy it, says Thay, because soon it – the moment bearing the sunrise – will be gone. Meditation is really what the art of living is all about – the ability to value each moment, cherish it, be joyful in it and move on to the next moment with undiluted enthusiasm. How can you enjoy a moment when it is painful, you may wonder? What if someone is dead? What if someone’s betrayed you? How will you cope with a moment when you are wishing it away? That’s why Thay prescribes a ‘serene encounter with reality’ – he says, don’t resist, don’t fight, instead accept, what is. Accepting what is, is the best way to gain inner peace. When you accept your reality, you begin to experience joy in the moment.
The human mind is like the human body. It can be trained. I have trained my mind by practicing both silence periods (mouna) and mindfulness – immersing myself in what I do. Over time, I have learnt to banish worry (despite the daunting circumstances my family and I are faced with owing to our grave financial state) and just be in the moment. Often time, cleaning around my house gives me that sense of equanimity. Through my own experience I know that if you immerse yourself in whatever you do, enjoying the process of doing it, being always mindful, you too can be happy, despite the circumstances!

Don’t agonize over pain; instead, celebrate!!!

If you think Life has treated you harshly, celebrate, don’t agonize!
Extraordinary pain is not a sign of your “past sins” catching up with you as we are often told it is. Instead it is a precursor to extraordinary grace that is on the way. So, if you are battered, bruised, bleeding from Life’s blows, don’t bemoan your state. Celebrate. Because you have encountered the God that you so desperately seek.
God? In pain? Indeed. The reason why you haven’t seen God so far is because you __and I__have always been told that God is in places of worship. But we haven’t been told that our pain is a place of worship, an arena to surrender to a cosmic design, the Master Plan, that which has no flaws. They say that religion is for those who want to avoid going to hell and spirituality is for those who have been there! Writing recently in The Times of India’s Speaking Tree column,  Rajshree Birla, the Chairperson of the Aditya Vikram Birla Foundation defines spirituality thus: “Spirituality is not about a religion. Neither is it about gods and rituals. Spirituality is a principled way of Life; it’s an attitude.” She couldn’t have said it better and simpler! You can’t borrow that attitude nor can you acquire it through training. You can imbibe it onlyfrom experience. That experience can come to you onlyfrom your deep, personal, pain.
When you are in the throes of such unimaginable anguish__physical, due to some health challenge, emotional, because you have lost someone, something or broken up in a relationship, or have lost your own self-respect because of an act committed in haste or in stupor__you, in your innermost, private recesses, will seek relief. You will want this Life to end. You will want this suffering to go. In that moment, when you plead, when you surrender, you will have felt a stirring in you. That, my dear friend, that’s your God within you. Maybe when you reminisce on your painful experience now, you may relate to my sharing this. When you feel this way, you will realize that your pain was a conduit, a Visa, if you may, to travel within and find the Godseed embedded in you. Just at it is in all of humanity. So, doesn’t pain, if it can take you to your Self, to your God, call for a celebration? Then, why agonize?

Stop being a ‘thought terrorist’!

You are human first. Your gender, your religion, your nationality, your qualifications and your income come later and, quite honestly, don’t matter at all.
Misbah Quadri
Picture Courtesy: The Hindu
This morning’s Hindureports the shocking story of a 25-year-old young lady, Misbah Quadri, being denied accommodation in all of Mumbai just because she is a Muslim! “Mumbai – of all places?” I thought. If Mumbai has become so parochial, the rest of India may well be damned! But this is not an isolated story or occurrence. The other day I was at a friend’s place for dinner. And he openly acknowledged that he would never rent his apartment to Muslims. He confessed: “Call me conservative or anti-Muslim, I cannot simply trust people who belong to that religion.” My friend is educated, widely traveled, does business globally and yet he holds such a regressive view? Within my own family, I have someone who cannot refer to Muslims without using an expletive alongside. This is a sad trend and needs to be condemned with as much intensity as it is being propagated.
When I think about it deeply, dispassionately, I believe we are finding it convenient to generalize and to hide behind our insecurities and flawed assumptions. While it is true that most acts of terror in the world are conducted by Muslims, it is wrong to imagine that all Muslims are terrorists. Perhaps, people find it simpler to banish an entire community because they have never tried to – or wanted to – be discerning in their judgment. Another reason why people cannot understand or appreciate Muslims may be because of their inscrutable practices, rituals and traditions – from circumcision to Muharram to the ubiquitous burkha. But that is no valid argument. Every religion, the way each of us is raised, every community has its own idiosyncratic methods and beliefs. If you find a burkha restricting women empowerment, then you should find the Hindu practice of disallowing girl children from performing the last rites of a dead parent equally restrictive. A sandhyavandanam can be as banal as Muharram if you don’t understand the significance of either.
I think there are as many reasons to divide humanity in this world as there are people on the planet. We don’t need to invent newer ways or choose to alienate a particular community or religion just because we don’t know or understand someone or something. Those who think they are very smart in exercising options such as the ones my friend has chosen, or what building societies in Mumbai have chosen against young Misbah, are actually sick in their heads and hearts. The very thought that you can discriminate against someone just because he or she belongs to a particular community or religion is an act of violence. As Gandhi would say, it is himsa (violence) of the highest order. It is worse than the acts of terror that kill people around the world each year. We must drop this tendency to be violent in our thoughts, in our perceptions, that lead us to discriminate against fellow human beings – urgently and wholeheartedly.

Fundamentally, let’s remember that there are only two kinds of people in the world. Humans who practice love and compassion. And humans who indulge in hatred and violence. If you cannot immediately decide which category someone belongs to, it is fine. But don’t imagine they belong to the latter category just because they come from a community that you think is redoubtable. If you do that, in the absence of valid, irrefutable evidence, unfortunately, sadly, you will be indulging in himsa too! When you discriminate against someone, you are being violent in thought. And, to be sure, thoughts can kill – they are like cancer, chewing away humanity! So, unless you are one, stop being a ‘thought terrorist’! 

Allow Life to slip into you and touch your soul

Sometimes, it is best not to do anything. No agendas. No meetings. Just hang around. Goof off.

We are so used to a frenetic pace of working that when Life slows down we think something’s wrong. And remain keyed up about the slowness of things. Vacation times such as this season are opportunities to learn the art of doing nothing. Doing nothing here clearly means “not having any business to transact, or schedules to worry about”. But it doesn’t mean being unproductive. In fact, you can learn so much about Life without having to rush through it. You don’t even need to travel. You don’t need a resort. Even if you stay at home this season, choose to do what you would normally not have the time to do. Just examine your street from your window. Watch people passing by. Hear the birds. Listen to the music from the noise vehicles passing by make. Feel the air in your lungs. Spend some time on the pavement. Watch Life playing out in front of you. You will evolve and awaken more than you would while attending a Vipassana Program or a Silent Retreat. You will heal.

A Zen proverb says, “Sitting quietly, doing nothing, spring comes, and the grass grows by itself.” So, allow Life to slip into you, touch your soul and show you a glimpse of bliss. If you like it, do more of doing nothing. If you don’t, well, it will be so simple__all you need to do is to rush back to rushing!

Become the Buddha that you are born to be

Would you kill anyone? Then why would you kill an animal or bird for you to quench your hunger when there are several other options available?
The case for vegetarianism is neither a choice nor is it religious. It is an absolute necessity on the spiritual path. Just as a space vehicle needs to abandon its payloads at different stages of its journey to reach its destination orbit, so do we need to abandon our ways and methods as we grow up – not just grow old – and learn to live intelligently.
This is not about God and it is not about sinning, it is about winning in Life. The real victory in Life is about conquering ourselves. Go inward. Go find your Self within you. When you understand that there is no difference between you who abets the killing of innocent species, in a way, by being willing to consume them, and those that aid and abet the perpetrators of terror in the world, you will want to reconsider your meal preferences. Being vegetarian is not even a belief. Don’t believe anything. Just feel it. Feel the crudeness in wanting to eat something that has been killed to feed you.
What did Osama Bin Laden and his cohorts do? What happened on 26/11 in Mumbai? And in London, Greece, Indonesia and keeps happening weekly in Pakistan? Some ‘misguided’ few killed innocent living beings to feed their egos, to satiate their dogmatic beliefs that killing is religious retribution. You call them stupid. Then what are you? Feel the cruelty churn within you. Arise. Awake.
I too ate non-vegetarian food until about 11 years ago. And then one day I simply gave it all up. My trigger was my then 9-year-old daughter asking me: “Papa, why do you eat an animal?” I have since discovered that what you did so far need not burden you with guilt. What you will do now is important. When you fly international sectors, especially out of India, you often encounter a meal option called ‘Jain’. Now Jainism is an old religion. All their 24 teachers, who they call ‘thirthankaras’, were warriors and meat eaters. They killed for food. But when they became aware, through their awakening, they converted their primal energy to a deep love for all forms of creation. They even threw out God and prayer. Just as Buddhism did. As Osho, the Master, has said, “When you threw out God and prayer, what’s left of religion? I want you to understand it: the moment God and prayer are discarded, the only thing that is left is to go in. Buddha also was from the warrior caste, son of a King, trained to kill. He was not a vegetarian. But when meditation started blossoming in him, just as a by-product the vegetarian idea came into his being: you cannot kill animals for eating, you cannot destroy life. While every kind of delicious food is available, what is the need to kill living beings?” So, Jainism and Buddhism are not a religion in that sense. They are a means to an awakening. For thousands of years now, Jains and Buddhists are vegetarians. Not because they are a sect or a cult. But because they are aware.
Become aware. Know what you are doing. Go inward. Seek the cause of all creation within__within you. It is the same breath that powers your children and keeps them alive that chicken and lamb and cows and pigs and shrimp and fish__all need to stay alive. Would you want someone to take your childrens’ Life-giving source away? Then why would you want to take away the same source from other creations of Life? Drop anchor, find your Self, become the Buddha that you are born to be!

Learn. Unlearn. Relearn. Continuously…

Learn continuously, unlearn consistently and you will learn to live.
Many of us are aware of many things. Thanks to the internet, knowledge is on our fingertips. But this knowledge does not necessarily lead to intelligent living. Our academic education prevents us from growing spiritually in Life. This is why we are unable to experience and practice awareness or mindfulness. If anything, our education is making us more arrogant. We are beginning to imagine we are all powerful because we think we know everything. A man who claimed he knew everything was asked by a Zen Master how many seeds were there in an apple. The man sliced the apple, counted the seeds and reported his findings to the Master. The Master took one seed and placed it on the man’s hand and asked him how many apples there were in that seed. The man fell at the Master’s feet and sought forgiveness for his arrogance.
Just as the man learnt humility and realized that Life’s beauty lies not in what we know but in the unknown, we must too. True power is not in getting an academic education. It is in the application of our knowledge to make the world a better place. American writer and futurist, a former editor of Fortune magazine, Alvin Toffler, says this: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” Make your choice now: do you want to remain the overqualified and educated full-of-yourself and illiterate person you are or do you want to learn to live by learning, unlearning and relearning continuously? 

Give without expectations. Receive without limitations.

We are continuously interdependent on each other: either giving or receiving all the time. All of us. Each one of us.

In fact, we are but servants of humanity, serving each other, unknowingly, unwittingly. Without the neighbor that you hate so much because of the way he blares his heavy metal music all night, you cannot understand the meaning of peace when the noise stops. Without the boss who breathes down your neck, you cannot understand the meaning of working under pressure. Without the guy who keeps proposing to you despite you declining each time, you cannot understand what it means to be wanted by someone. As servants we must therefore be humble and grateful for a. the opportunity to serve and b. the opportunity to receive.

However, we struggle with this concept. Sometimes, we don’t want to give__time, money, advice. At other times, we don’t want to receive__because our ego comes in the way. Learn for Nature, exhorts, spiritual guru, poet and artiste, Sri Chinmoy (originally, Chinmoy Kumar Ghose 1931~2007). He says: “The flower gives nectar. The bee gives pollination. The bee receives nectar. The flower receives pollination. Independent nobody is __ we just fool ourselves.”

Let us celebrate this spirit and the reality of interdependence by having a servant-like attitude to and in Life. Give without expectations. Receive without limitations. Only when we are giving and receiving freely, without inhibitions, without keeping count of what you did to others and what others did to you, do we feel completely fulfilled in Life. 

Loving what you get makes Life blissful

Learn to love what you get even if you don’t want it.
This is what will make Life easier, simpler and blissful. We cannot always get what we want. Most often it may be something we just don’t like. Maybe it’s the way your eggs got done this morning. Maybe it is the bad headache hanging over from last night’s party. Maybe it is the non-reclining seat on the plane this morning. Maybe it is the partner you have. Or the Rheumatoid Arthritis that you have been diagnosed with. Maybe you were called in to work yesterday, on a day when you had to be at your child’s annual day at school. Whatever it may have been, is, or will be, hating what you get is not going to make you feel any better. Loving it will.
How can you love something that you don’t want, that you actually will prefer hating? Let us understand hating first in trying to answer this question. Hating is about not being who you are. Does a baby ever say it hates something? Does it say it doesn’t want this weather, this religion, this name, these clothes, this food? Did you as a baby say you didn’t like this or that. So, as part of creation, we are all created to be loving, accepting, willing. Hating something therefore goes against our intrinsic nature. Second, it is the nature of Life to keep dishing out various events, experiences, learnings, challenges irrespective of our__yours or mine__individual preferences. So, the most intelligent response to Life has to be to be grateful and love whatever comes your way. Because it is the same Life which gives you what you don’t want that gives you things you love too.
A young girl from a very affluent family went to her dermatologist and asked him to help her get rid of her pimples and acne. The doctor told her that this was part of her growing up years, driven by hormonal changes in the body, and that in a few years she would be fine. The girl got angry and tried meeting many specialists and doctors with the hope that she may find a “cure”. For months and years she spent all her family’s money trying to get rid of her pimples. Nothing worked. Finally, she was introduced to a lady dermatologist, who was regarded as the best in the world. The girl flew down to London to meet this doctor. The doctor advised her precisely the same course of action and counseled patience that had been prescribed by all the specialists that she had been consulting so far. “But I have tried all these methods,” lamented the girl. The sagely dermatologist, in her 70s, looked at her young patient and said, “Well, if you have tried all of that, all I can suggest further is that you just learn to love your pimples and acne, because this is what has been given to you.”
If you found the girl’s reaction to having pimples and acne so preposterous, don’t exult too much. Our reaction, at most times, to what has been given to us, is pretty much as immature as the girl’s reaction to pimples was. Just as pimples are an integral part of an individual’s growing up years, biologically, so are Life’s challenges__through giving us what we don’t expect or want. They are an important aspect of our spiritual growth. Loving what you get makes Life simple, easy and bliss.