Whatever you do, do it with total awareness. When you are aware, when you are mindful of what’s going on, you live more intelligently – and peacefully!
I read a Zen story that the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Naht Hahn (a.k.a Thay) shares in a discourse. A man is riding a horse that is galloping very quickly. Another man, his friend, standing by the roadside, yells at him: “Hey you, where are you going in such a hurry?” The man shouts in reply, without looking back, “I don’t know. Ask the horse.” Thay says this is the situation most of us are in – especially those who are running crazy, from one meeting to another, chasing their tails and deadlines, in today’s rushed world. Some of us are even riding more than one horse at the same time. Our lives have become so busy, we don’t know where the horses we ride are going. Worse, we don’t even have time to think, to understand, why we are on those horses or where we may end up going.
I can relate to Thay’s metaphor of the horse and rushing away not knowing where it is taking you. There was a time, when I ran a reasonably spread out organization. We had operations in six cities in India. And I had 40 people reporting to me. We had institutionalized, what we believed was a best practice, a process of my direct reports writing to me each weekend sharing their experiences, learnings and concerns from the past week. I spent Sundays poring over these reports at length. Even when my children, who were at that time young and needed my time the most, asked for me to take them out to a restaurant or to the beach, I carried these CEO reports with me. Some of these reports had bad news in them – a client was unhappy or a team member accused another of politicking or someone wanted to put in her papers. I was always a man in a hurry. So, when I finished reading these reports, I would be impatient for the weekend to get over. Come Monday and I was keen to address and resolve each of those issues that were escalated to me over the weekend. I don’t think having team members share with you weekly is a bad idea. But the way I followed that process was naïve. I ruined each of my weekends – resultantly, I was always on the edge, irritable and unhappy with things in my Firm and my Life! I simply did not have any time for the family – I don’t remember any meals I had with them or goofing off with my kids. I made no effort myself and whatever time I spent with them was only when my wife insisted or pleaded with me. So, for almost a decade of my Life, the only memory I have of weekends is of dealing with those CEO reports and fighting crisis after crisis during the week. I was just on this horse called work and I did not even know where it was taking me then.
My wake-up call came when my son, then 18, took off to study at the University of Chicago in Fall 2008. When we saw him off at the Chennai airport at midnight, I remember coming home and being unable to catch sleep. My wife and daughter were exhausted but I decided to wait for a text message from my son confirming that he had boarded. I fixed myself a drink and was walking aimlessly around the house. I stopped by a picture of his on one of the shelves and broke into tears. I recall asking his picture: “When did you grow up son? And so fast? I wish I had spent more time with you!”
Thay says each day, each moment gives us the opportunity to live intelligently. That opportunity can be seized only by being totally aware of what we are doing. If we look at our lives, a lot of it, our lifestyles, our way of consuming things, everything is steeped in mindlessness. We are just being driven crazy by the horses we have chosen to ride.
Only with total awareness can you understand the consequences of each of your choices and actions! Monday is a good day, as any, to take a deep breath and, even if you can’t get off a horse immediately, at least know where it’s taking you – and, if required and if you can, rein it in!