When words can’t

Originally posted on Cristian Mihai:

words2Don’t you feel that certain human experiences can’t be expressed? That certain depths of the soul can’t be put into words, no matter how much we try? Yes, it feels at times that words are simply bleeding out of our hearts, and, yes, we do come close to revealing the essence of the human spirit, yet we fail. Time and time again.

View original 313 more words

Memories of Maggi

Most days, I walk back from work. It’s pretty much the only exercise I get, not proud of it but that’s the way it goes when you’re hustling at a startup. My walks are important to me: it’s my 30 minutes of solitude, music and thinking.

Got a Whatsapp message from wifey as I was leaving office: “Maggi for dinner.” I think she was trying to tone down my expectations from dinner. However, little does she know how much I love Maggi, especially on a cold winter night like this. I had an extra spring in my step walking home towards my Maggi bowl. My walk got me thinking of a fond childhood memory.

Delhi is a glorious place in the winters. My family was never the very outgoing kinds. Dad worked hard to give us a good life, and there was never a lot of extra money to spend on going out. Still, mom would make small outings happen every now and then. One time, we got together with one family from the neighbourhood, and made a Sunday evening trip to Appu Ghar. I must have been in 3rd standard, so did not get to ride the more awesome rides like Roller Coaster and My Fair Lady. Still, the rides left an impression – I remember throwing a fit asking to be taken on a ride, to no avail.

However, what I did get was a big bowl of hot Maggi at the Maggi stall. Clumsy as I was, mom decided to absolve me from feeding myself, and fed me. The bowl was followed by a glass of hot milk. Of all the things about my childhood I have forgotten, I distinctly remember how good that bowl of Maggi and that glass of hot milk felt.

And then, I had Maggi again today. Told wifey the story of my Maggi memories from Appu ghar. For a brief moment, I met the 3rd standard kid inside of me, who cherished that little snack then, and cherishes it even now.

maxresdefault

The 30th birthday reflective post

My resolve to blog regularly has not worked out too well. I have been kinder on myself than before, though. I have come to realize that I will remain an undisciplined blogger. However, I also realize that I have an urge to write, maybe a more elementary human urge to be heard that I like to express through writing. So, every few months, a sporadic blog post will keep emerging. This is one of those sporadic blog posts. I am on a train back to Bangalore from Chennai, about to begin a 4-day vacation. Next few days will mark my 3rd anniversary, and 30th birthday. So it’s a good opportunity to get reflective.

When you hit an age perfectly divisible by 10, I think you end up evaluating things. Well, not at 10 and 20, you are too immature or too drunk to evaluate anything at those two milestones. Not to say you cannot be immature or drunk when entering 30, but I think this is one of the first birthdays in a long time when I have thought of taking stock of my life.

So, how am I doing? I think I’m doing good. I think I‘m happy. I am not particularly overjoyed; nothing exceptional has happened recently for me to feel ecstatic. But I remember a time when I was perpetually anxious, maybe sorrowful. That has changed.

I am sure of one thing – I am more connected with myself. I am aware of things that give me joy, and things that give me grief. I am aware of things in my life that need fixing, and I know what will happen if I do not fix them. I know life is uncertain, and that I will never be in control. I also know that in-spite of never being in control, the only thing that is in my hands is to wake up everyday and give the world my best.

So, net net, I feel I know myself a little better getting into my 30th year. I know I have far more to be thankful for than to be sad about, and that life has been kind. There is nothing to regret, but there is no time to get complacent. Here’s raising a toast to the last 30 years – thank you, you’ve been awesome.

Monday

I am getting back to blogging after 6 months on the unlikeliest of days. A Monday.

So many weeks and months passed, where every Friday, after a week of maddening work at my start-up, I would tell myself I would finally write a blog that weekend. The weekends brought their frolic, and somehow always managed to subdue the thought of sitting and typing my thoughts out here.

Today is the first Monday in a long time I am not working late into Monday night. I thought it was a good idea to use these minutes to come back here and drop a note, for myself to read later.

Work is the same – part fun, part stress, but overall very satisfying. My moment of joy on weekday nights is coming home to the wife and the dog, and spending some time just existing around them. Most days, that seems to be enough. It’s all I want.

Then there are days when dissatisfaction creeps in. With life, or money, or love, or career success, or social standing. All those petty things that tend to nibble away on your happiness. They come, bite sometimes, and leave a sting.

Although as time passes by, I am getting better at getting rid of the sting quickly. The dull moments come, take a toll. But I smile and tell them to move on. And I have found that if I assert myself strongly enough, the stinging feelings leave quickly.

Right now, that is my dominant thought, and the message to my future self. That only we, and we alone, can reason with our demons, and send them away. Other people can come and help, maybe show the way, but in the end it is us who must handle the difficult task of reasoning with ourselves and finding peace in chaos.

So keep looking. And keep rocking!

Hanging out with my gang

After a week of travel, it’s a relief to come home to your favorite peeps. Our dog, Hachi, is settling in well. We were worried about how he would adjust to our absence since we both are gone through the day. However he has found his rhythm. It’s the first time I am living with a dog, and it’s as nice as I though it would be.

Identity…

We all carry an image of ourselves in our minds. Our own impressions of our virtues and shortcomings dictate how we see the world, and feel about ourselves. So much of our daily happiness is predicated on how we view ourselves.

Some will say it’s a gift – the realization that your happiness depends on your view of yourself, also means that if we can somehow learn to craft an image of ourselves we love mentally, we will be happier.

“I am fat, I am poor, why am I still stuck in the same job.” – Bad self view, sorrow

“I am kind, I have loved ones, I am making a difference.” – Good self view, joy

So, if our mental image of ourselves determines a large part of our joy, and our own mental image is something we can engineer, it begs the question – why is there so much misery?

It is because we are very bad and drowning the noise of the external world, and investing in ourselves to let our mind create that positive self-image.

More specifically, how does an average city dweller “identify” himself? “I am an XYZ at a major international firm ABC. I make so much money in the year, and next year, I’ll be making more. I have 500 FB friends, and my last post of my Goa pic got 100 likes. So, life is good.” In one sentence, this view can be paraphrased as: “I am successfully able to craft an image of success and happiness for the outside world, hence all is good.”

The flaw – how the world sees you is not how you see yourself. And you live with yourself 24 hours a day.

A strong sense of identity cannot be predicated on possessions – job title, paycheck size, things. Because titles go, paychecks fluctuate, things are taken from you. When I moved back from the US, I was in the exact same spot – no job title, no paycheck, no possessions. For a while, I was completely lost. All I had believed myself to be (a Consultant with an elite firm in the Bay) was no longer true. I was a 27-year male who could sit in a park all day, and nobody would call him to check up on what he was upto.

But after a short period of self-doubt, I had the most awesome learning (so far) of my life.

I saw myself for what I truly was – another man with his set of strengths and weaknesses, starting from scratch. Once I realized my own self-image was worth nothing, and that the world owed me nothing, so much weight was lifted off my shoulders. I went around searching for independent assignments, took buses to get around Delhi, and stopped spending money on non-essential things because I did not know when my next paycheck from a short-freelance gig would come. Amidst all this chaos, I ended up doing the best work of my life as a project manager with the United Nations. The assignment took me to villages in Eastern UP, where I was finally able to do something meaningful with my management education – define budgeting framework for social justice programs in the villages, and train some people to become English and Math instructors to teach their fellow villagers.

Since then, I’ve settled (for now) to be part of an awesome start-up. The possessions are coming back. But one thing has changed fundamentally. The next time I need to go back to living without these things, it will not hurt. Because I am not my TV, or my car, or my shoe brand. What I am is a person who can fight, who can love others irrespective of his own circumstances, and who can keep going on. To me, that realization about myself is worth more than everything I ever had.

The challenge, it seems, is to be connected to this world, and yet be disconnected. Maybe this is what Buddha meant from the “middle path.” To be a part of it, but to remember it’s ephemeral. And to remember, that the only one we need to answer to at the end of the day is our own selves.

Thoughts on freedom…

Every few days, someone posts a meme from “Into the Wild” on Facebook. Here’s one:

tumblr_mr1e9kjNVi1swynzao1_500

 

I see why. In our minds, Into the Wild depicts freedom in its most absolute: a man roaming freely in nature, free from the shackles of the urban jungle. Bound to our computers, work hours and endless social obligations, we all lust for the carefree life of Christopher McCandless.

But that’s setting a very high bar for freedom. If living alone in Alaska is freedom, most of us will never be free. Moreover, city dwellers value and love at-least some aspects of their rule-bound lives: a salary, company of their loved ones, a Saturday night drink at their favorite local bar. That leads to the conclusion – “if abandoning all safety and predictability is freedom, most of us do not want to be free.” I believe that’s a harsh judgement, because there’s nothing more people want than to be free. All this confuses and muddles the definition of freedom.

So, what is freedom?

Before discussing freedom from a human context, I want you to think of a lion who lives in a jungle. The lion is a free creature, right? He’s the King too. He lives by his schedule, and is the architect of his daily agenda. But a lion gets hungry, which is when he must hunt. A lion should also protect his lioness and kids, because they are constantly in threat from other lions who see the other lion family as competitors. As free as the lion is, he is bound by the laws of nature: everything that is born must fight to live, and perish when its time comes.

Humans are subject to the exact same laws of nature. Just like the jungle lion, we must fight, survive and protect the ones we love. That is our karma. Anything that is born must do its karma, it’s not even a matter of choice. So it begs the final question: if we are bound by karma, do we even have the choice to be free?

In my mind, the answer is a resounding “Yes”. But to be free, a fantastical vision of freedom with no shackles should be abandoned. Setting the bar that high will only set us up for failure, and eventually cause dissastisfaction with our lives.

Just like happiness, freedom must be sought in the small things. Had a hectic week? You’re free to spend your Sunday soaking some Sun. Noisy meetings gave you a headache? Listen to your favorite romantic album when you hit bed. Make the moments count: how we spend the moments is how we live our lives.

In addition, freedom comes from “exercising” your freedom. “Think freely”: disagree with the popular opinion if you believe in yours. “Act freely”: if you believe you’re right, do it regardless of how others will perceive it. And just as you value your freedom and happiness, “value the freedom and happiness of others”. Spend time doing things you love and the people you love, and do not compromise on your strongest passions for anything.

In the end, I think being free is not in our circumstances, but in our outlook. The mind can be free even when the body is held captive in a small room. Similarly, the mind can be hostage even when the body is on a mountaintop. So being free will take a hell lot of practice. And it will be a constant battle to stay free amidst the chaos: freedom is not a destination you reach and can stay at. All pleasurable things in life take practice (playing the guitar, learning a new dance form). It’s only natural being free will also take a hell lot of practice.