Your work of Art.. this life.

I once asked a question on facebook, something to the effect of..
‘How do you listen to your voice amidst the noise?’

And there were many interesting responses. The journey of listening to the tiny whispers amidst the daily noise, the willingness to pause to breathe so that we may discover the richness of the moment instead of the mindless chasing of a future. Isn’t that what the life of life is all about?

I think it is more than ten years back, I gifted a book ‘The Tao of Womanhood’ to my friends and colleagues, Anu and Arun Wakhlu. Arun pulled out a piece from that which has stayed with me. I wrote it down in my ‘planner’ which had many quotations which are my favourite ones. In one of my trips I lost the planner but not the wisdom of these lines:

in Japanese means clearing away everything that doesn’t
contribute to your work of art in this life.

Cluttered table-tops, cluttered cupboards,
Cluttered calendars, cluttered lives.
Clutter strangles the spirit and robs us of peace and power.

Being filled full is not the same as being fulfilled.
Let there be spaces in our lives to move and breathe.

– Diane Dreher in ‘The Tao of Womanhood’

One of the precious books to help you do ‘Misogi’ is ‘Clear your clutter using feng shui’ – Karen Kingston. Some of you may get turned off by the word ‘Feng Shui’ but I recommend that you don’t throw the baby out with what seems like bathwater to you 😉

Today, could you look around you and see in which area of your life do you need to clear away that which does not contribute to your work of art. And make the clearing away gentle. It could be your home, your bathroom, your office, your relationships, your thoughts. Take a baby step or a bigger step, and notice how that makes you feel. And what that does to your being present in the richness of the moment.

Non-linear leaps or baby steps?

I have often wondered..
sometimes more happens in an hour than in a week- or at least you may have seen that you have ‘accomplished more in an hour than in a day.

How come? The question then is .. Is the common notion that there isn’t enough time.. true? Honestly, examine the myth. Mythos creates pathos. And that becomes our ethos!

A lot can happen in a little time, often we are not aware of the leverage points. And to notice those perhaps, we need to allow space, slow down, do less, be more.

So on one hand I am a believer in baby steps. And on the other, quantum leaps. And beyond leaps or steps,  sits a truth and that is what it is all about. Our essence. How might we connect with that space. Through a 5 minute vacation or a 10 second miracle (a great book by Gay Hendricks)

I was also told about another interesting book which questions the notion of linear time most of us live in. It talks of ‘wet round time’ vs ‘dry linear time’. It speaks of a time for women and wild time! The book is ‘Pip Pip.. A sideways look at time’ – Jay Griffiths. Thanks to my friend Zaid who told me about this.

And then there is this lovely not so well known book, Momo- Michael Ende, which takes you through an awesome story about how the illusion of time came to be!

‘The last thing we know is what to put first’

I was writing an email to a client who is a CEO/MD. And as I finished the email I realized that this may make a good blog post to share.. So here is what I wrote ..

“I had this impulse to write to you because I have realised that often we human beings- all of us- are a bit crazy.. for example, I have seen in the last 14 years of working with/ contributing to more than 5000+ people, 500+ senior leaders (CEO/CxO/business and functional heads), 100+ plus facilitators, trainers & social entrepreneurs that..

‘The last thing we know is what to put first’ – Blaise Pascal

Human beings find it difficult to sustain what they give birth to.. to deepen and move towards mastery.
And organisations find it even more difficult.
Be that as it may, in leadership..
what differentiates the men from the boys (and the women from the girls- didn’t want to sound gender insensitive ;-))
and the good organisations from the great..
are 3 things:

1. Are they investing in developing themselves?
2. Are they noticing the relationship between success and deep self mastery?
3. Do they really appreciate greatness.. their own and that of their people and organisation/vision?

It is simple… in the field of leadership.. metaphorically speaking..
Boys, girls and good organisations don’t
Men, Women great organisations Do.

Now, you may wonder why am I sharing all this.
Well- having worked with you and your organization, I see there is HUGE potential
And yet.. to harness it, I believe it is vital to focus on developing the leadership and the team in a sustained way, to believe that this investment of time and energy will make a differnece.

The greatest leaders/CEOs/ organisations today focus on learning ongoingly.
And of course most organisations- more than 90% – are the ‘also ran’s- some who may move from mediocrity to being good..
But greatness is a different realm altogether.”

This is where the note to the MD ended.  So.. some questions arise

Why is it that the last thing we know is what to put first? Why is it that we tend to not attend to the metaphorical golden goose that lays the eggs (ourselves)? In Urdu/ Hindi the word ‘khud’ (yourself) and ‘khuda’ (the divine-The Self) is what we often neglect. Why don’t we sustain the momentum of learning? In my understanding and from what I have ‘gathered’, this happens because of:

1. Oscillation: We have a deep desire to change, learn, grow, create what matters most to us (be in our Essence). However, we also have a deep-rooted belief. “I cannot have what I want (persona, limiting belief). We keep oscillating towards these opposing directions materializing the desire and actualizing the belief. Because either way there is a tension which seeks resolution. This oscillating structure (rocking chair-like) if mounted on an advancing structure (a Ferrari) can enable us to deal with this challenge. The advancing structure is born out of love and purpose not a ‘Return on Investment’ orientation (Refer: Path of Least Resistance – Robert Fritz)

2. Comfort Zone: We get back into our familiar patterns (personas) because there is a short term pay-off. A quick- fix like not taking responsibility and blaming. Making others wrong. Not bring dominated. Being on automatic pilot. Playing the triangle game. The adventure of living totally involves our willingness to feel all our feelings esp. the unpleasant ones (fear, anger sadness). Then they pass away like thunderstorms. And we can be back in flow working joyfully.

3. Upper Limit: As a result of our upbringing, we can contain only a certain amount of joy. We learn to limit the amount of energy we feel & express. Beyond that our thermostat trips. The familiar, though unpleasant seduces us. The fear of the unknown comes up as we enter a zone of positivity we have not occupied before. And we come down into low energy levels. (Refer: The Big Leap – Gay Hendricks)

4. The Human Design: The only way for us to experience joy is to experience what is non-joy (pain/unpleasant feelings)!! Because then there is a reference point. Paradoxically we lost it, only to be able to rediscover it. (Refer: Conversations with God – Neale Donald Walsh)

5. Emotional Nourishment: While we feed our physical body with food, most of us don’t nourish our “emotional body”. Most of us are not even aware of the need to nourish the emotional aspects. Hence that which we don’t give energy to begins to wither. “Whatever you focus on expands”.
We believe that, “All the positivity must automatically and always stay alive. I have right to feeling good permanently once I attend a training program”.
That’s like saying, ‘ I’ll have food today & it must last me for the rest of my life”.

6. Law of Nature: “All growth in nature occurs while its being inhibited”….. Maturana. If there is no resistance, its not living. All that grows in nature is in the presence of forces that impede it. We often give up easily and don’t persevere with the challenges.

7. Equilibraiting: Demartini tells is in ‘The Breakthrough Experience’ that all exists in pairs of opposites. Happiness just cannot ever exist without sadness. Pain without pleasure. The low without the high. Its just that we notice only a part of it and then we are not with the truth. When we ‘equilibriate’ i.e. notice the other missing part, we see the divine order and naturally move to love and gratitude seeing the divine order in all that is.

If you have come so far in reading this, I would invite you to look at any one small aspect of your life and see how might you take a baby step with love and patience to prioritise your Self. All it may need is a 5 minute vacation (another blog post here you may like to look at!)

One body

One body-one mind

Can we function as one body?

Someone can beat like a heart

And someone can think like the head..

Someone is a liver and someone the legs
Why must each do everything?
Isn’t that foolish?

Each born to do what we were meant to
Each meant to sing a specific song
Why struggle?

Let’s let go of the tired old ways
Of having to change.. of having to ‘improve’
Lets dance.. lets paint .. lets play

Life is too short
To figure it all out
To anal-yse
Unless that’s what makes you fly

We were meant to have the magic
That is us
That is in us
That is amongst us

Learning difficulty… Zen story of 4 horses.

Is there something that you have found difficult to change in another, in yourself? Have you come across some chronic pattern in people, in yourself that refuses to budge despite a lot of effort? Some of us find it easier to see it outside. Some see it inside. And some of us believe, outside is inside 😉 Is there some hidden grace in these situations?

I have struggled with some patterns for long. In myself and trying to deal and accept it in others. Can the frustration of relating with a colleague, a family member, a friend who is difficult and stubborn be ‘made’ fascinating? Could the sometimes phenomenal challenge/ burden of working with oneself to let go be made lighter? Is it about taking action, seeing things differently? Is it about learning, or teaching? In this piece from George Leonard from his brilliant book ‘Mastery’ (thanks to my friend Sekhar Chandrasekhar who pointed me to it and gave me the book), a lot of these questions got answered. And especially since it is about teaching (which I call facilitating, enabling etc.), it made even more sense to me 😉

The Magic of teaching Beginners

Many years later, I found myself once again in the instructor’s role, engaged this time in an art far more subtle and complex and difficult to learn than flying. I was forty-seven when a friend invited me to join the aikido class he was organizing. I had never heard of aikido, nor had I ever dreamed of becoming a martial artist. That was twenty years ago, and I can now say that practicing aikido has been the second most profound learning experience of my life. Teaching aikido has been the most profound.

Even before getting my first-degree black belt, I was enlisted by my teacher as an assistant instructor. My job: teaching the basics of the art to beginners. Six years later, in October 1976, shortly after getting our black belts, two of my fellow aikidoists and I started our own dojo. From rather questionable beginnings fourteen years ago (it’s not customary for first degree black belts to start their own school), Aikido of Tamalpais has become a respected and happy dojo. We three founders have continued developing our skills, and have advanced to higher ranks. From the thousands of students who have practiced at our school for varying lengths of time have come twenty-eight black belts – not an insignificant number in a difficult art that offers no cheap degrees.

At this point, ‘I’d like to be able to tell you that by now I’ve mastered the art of teaching slow students and beginners. But that wouldn’t be true; I still have one of my partners, tells me that teaching beginners and slow students is not only fascinating but also pleasurable. The talented student, she believes, is likely to learn so fast that small stages in the learning process are glossed over; creating an opaque surface that hides the secrets of the art from view. With the slow student, though, the teacher is forced to deal with small, incremental steps that penetrate like X rays the very essence of the art, and clearly reveal the process through which the art becomes manifest in movement.

Gradually the mystery has unfolded. My experience as an instructor has shown me, for one, things that the most talented students don’t necessarily make the best martial artists. Sometimes, strangely enough, those with exceptional talent have trouble staying on the path of mastery. In 1987, my colleagues at Esquire and I conducted a series of interviews with athletes known as masters of their sports. Most of the athletes we interviewed stressed hard so many baseball players with God-given ability who were soon gone. I’ve seen others with no ability to speak who stayed in the big leagues for fourteen or fifteen years.

Good Horse, Bad Horse
In this book Zen Mind, Beginners mind, Zen master Shunryu Suzuki approaches the question of fast and slow learners in terms of horses. “in our scriptures, it is said that there are four kinds of horses. Excellent ones, good ones, poor ones, and bad ones, the best horse will run slow and fast, right and left at the drivers will, before it sees the shadow of the whip: the second best will run as well as the first one, just before the whip reaches it skin; the third one will run when it feels pain on its body; the fourth will run after the pain penetrates to the marrow of its bones. You can imagine how difficult it is for the fourth one to learn to run.

“When we hear this story, almost all of us want to be the best horse. If it is impossible to be the best one, we want to be the second best.” But this is a mistake, Master Suzuki says, when you learn too easily; you’re tempted not to work hard, not to penetrate to the marrow of a practice.

If you study calligraphy, you will find that those who are not so clever usually become the best calligraphers. Those who are very clever with their hands often encounter great difficulty after they have reached a certain stage. This is also true in art, and in life.” The best horse, according to Suzuki, may be the worst horse. And the worst horse can be the best, for if it perseveres, it will have learned whatever it is practicing all the way to the marrow of its bones.

Suzuki’s parable of the four horses has haunted me ever since I first heard it. For one thing, it poses a clear challenge for the person with exceptional talent: to achieve his or her full potential, this person will have to work just as diligently as those with less innate ability. The parable has made me realize that if I’m the first or second horse as an instructor of fast learners. I’m the third or fourth horse as an instructor of slow learners. But there is hope. If I persevere and dedicate my efforts of bringing along every Brewster and Edmundson (slow learners described earlier in the book) who shows up at our aikido school, I’ll someday know this aspect of instructing all the way to the marrow of my bones.

So when you look for your Instructor, in whatever skill or art, spend a moment celebrating it when you discover one who pursues maximum performance. But also make sure that he or she is paying exquisite attention to the slowest student on the mat.

Now, when I look back or even encounter a tough moment, what appears to be a difficult person, I take a deeper breath.  In one program I was conducting to develop facilitators, one person at 10pm of Day 2 of a 4 day program declared that he had had enough and he was going to walk out because the program was too structured. Some of you reading this may be surprised since some have accused my approach to be too unstructured ;-). he had come from a specific facilitation school or paradigm. Anyway to cut a long story short, I listened deeply truly not knowing how to respond. But really wanting to understand his pain.

The next day, we discovered he had a bad tummy- loose motions. And promptly we picked up Louise Hay’s book, ‘Heal your body’ and discovered that loose motions are about ‘wanting to run away’, Much to my and our relief, he decided to stay. And the whole structure vs lack of structure became a key conversation.. and by the end it enabled us all to see that the truth always lies in the sweet spot between the polarities and also the sweet spot keeps shifting moment to moment. Structure has a beauty and so does flow. Structure can derail and flow can obstruct. In fact someone told me that the etymological meaning of structure is ‘movement’.

I was left with gratitude towards this person. He became a great friend. And I discovered the 4th horse in me which was willing to learn. Such grace. As we step out of the race, to pause, to reflect, to listen to life.

Pain or pleasure.. Lover and Beloved

A little while back, I was in a conversation with my dear friends GD and NithyaShanti. GD taught us a new powerful healing method, ‘Matrix Energetics’. And after it had touched us in powerful ways.. he asked us an important question.. What would it mean to live in a place that is beyond polarities vs being caught in more and more heady ‘experiences’? Like the popular Rumi line.. ‘There is a place beyond right doing and wrong doing. I will meet you there’

I was grappling with this whole notion of abundance. And GD said.. what would it be like if you could see that abundance presupposes a poverty. And we are then still locked in duality. vs. being where we are. This beautiful piece of Meher Baba had touched a very deep place inside me a while back! And I thought I must share it here.

The Lover and the Beloved

God is Love. And Love must love. And to love there must be a Beloved. But since God is Existence infinite and eternal there is no one for Him to love but Himself. And in order to love Himself He must imagine Himself as the Beloved whom He as the Lover imagines He loves.

Beloved and Lover implies separation. And separation creates longing; and longing causes search. And the wider and the more intense the search the greater the separation and the more terrible the longing.

When longing is most intense separation is complete, and the purpose of separation, which was that Love might experience itself as Lover and Beloved, is fulfilled; and union follows. And when union is attained, the Lover knows that he himself was all along the Beloved whom he loved and desired union with; and that all the impossible situations that he overcame were obstacles which he himself had placed in the path to himself.

To attain union is so impossibly difficult because it is impossible to become what you already are! Union is nothing other than knowledge of oneself as the Only One.

– Meher baba

Some may find this a bit ‘lofty’. Some may be touched. In a very practical way, it may be worthwhile examining that whenever we experience an emotion- a high or a low, an ebb or a flow.. to notice the other side that is always there. We experience only one side because we don’t see the other side. Seeing both has enabled me to then slip into a space that holds these two.  Good ole Kahlil Gibran says, ‘Only to the extent that you allow pain to carve into your being can you contain joy’ It emerged in the chat between Nithya, GD and me.. that the essential duality is me and you. The lover and the beloved. The giver and the receiver. And so may people focus on ‘giving’ without fully seeing that one cannot exist without the other. And many on the ‘positive’ to the exclusion of the ‘negative’ .. until they meet life and make friends with reality.

A love that doesn’t invade or avoid suffering – Inspired by Parker Palmer

What does it mean to deeply and truly love? Such a huge question. What does it mean to be present to another’s pain and suffering without belittling it? I am sure many of us have had moments and times when we felt hopeless, down in the dumps. Or encountered a dear friend or family member, a colleague feeling that way. How do we respond to that?

When I read this piece I was going through a difficult phase in my life – a few years back. The authenticity with which Parker Palmer writes, the subtlety with which he captures the texture of his journey, his vulnerability has touched the lives of perhaps millions. He works with teachers who in turn impact the lives of millions. At one point as I was reading this part of the book, I just broke down… surrendering to the moment, to the tenderness of what it means to be alive and suffering.

While Palmer speaks in this passage about his deep pain and how only few people were able to connect, the essential message I took away is about what it takes to connect deeply to another human being- especially a person who is suffering.

Depression is the ultimate state of disconnection, not only between people, and between mind and heart, between one’s self image and public mask.

Then there were the visitors who began by saying, “I know exactly how you feel….” Whatever comfort or counsel these people may have intended to speak, I heard nothing beyond their opening words, because I knew they were peddling a falsehood; no one can fully experience another person’s mystery. Paradoxically, it was my friend’s empathetic attempt to identify with me that made me feel even more isolated, because it was over identification. Disconnection may be hell, but it is better than false connections.

Having not only been “comforted” by friends but having tried to comfort others in the same way, I think I understand what the syndrome is about: avoidance and denial. One of the hardest things we must do sometimes is to be present to another person’s pain without trying to “fix” it to, simply stand respectfully at the edge of that person’s mystery and misery. Standing there, we feel useless and powerless. Which is exactly how a depressed person feels- and our unconscious need as job’s comforters is to reassure ourselves that we are not like the sad soul before us.

In effort to avoid those feelings, I give advice, which sets me, not you, free. If you take my advice, you may get well and if you don’t get well, I did the best I could. If you fail to take my advice, there is nothing more I can do. Either way, I get relief by distancing myself from you, guilt free.

Blessedly, there were several people, family and friends, who had the courage to stand with me in a simple and healing way. One of them was a friend named Bill who, having asked my permission to do so., stopped by my home every afternoon, sat me down in a chair , knelt in front of me, removed my shoes and socks , and for half an hour simply massaged my feet. He found the one place in my body where I could still experience feeling – and feel somewhat reconnected with the human race.

Bill rarely spoke a word. When he did, he never gave advice but simply mirrored my condition. He would say, “I can sense your struggle today,” or, “It feels like you are getting stronger.” I could not always respond, but his words were deeply helpful: life-giving knowledge in the midst of an experience that makes one feel annihilated and invisible. It is impossible to put into words what my friend’s ministry meant to me. Perhaps it is enough to say that I now have deep appreciation for biblical stories of Jesus and the washing feet.’

The poet Rainer Maria Rilke says, “love… consists in this, that two solitudes protect and border and salute each other.” That is the kind of love my friend Bill offered. He never tried to invade my awful inwardness with false comfort or advice; he simply stood on its boundaries, modeling the respect for me and my journey – and the courage to let it be- that I myself needed if I were to endure.

This kind of love does not reflect the “functional atheism” we sometimes practice – saying pious words about God’s presence in our lives but believing, on the contrary, that nothing good is going to happen unless we make it happen. Rilke describes a kind of love that neither avoids nor invades the soul’s suffering. It is a love in which we represent God’s love to a suffering person, a God who does not “fix” us but gives us strength by suffering with us. By standing respectfully and faithfully at the borders of another’s solitude, we may mediate the love of God to a person who needs something deeper that any human being can give.

Amazingly, I was offered an unmediated sign of that love when in the middle of sleepless night during my first depression; I heard a voice say, simply and clearly, “I love you, Parker.” The words did not come audibly from without but silently from within, and they could not have come from my ego, which was too consumed by self-hatred and despair to utter them.

It was a moment of inexplicable grace but so deep is the devastation of depression that I dismissed it. And yet that moment made its mark: I realized that my rejection of such a remarkable gift was a measure of how badly I needed help.

extracted from ‘Let Your Life Speak’ -Parker J Palmer

We all need help and we all resist being helped in ways that are obvious and subtle. We all can help another. Helping not by way of rescuing, taking the pain away always. Helping in the way Palmer has shared. Often the pain is required. And sometimes what is practiced as ‘healing’ sometimes can be a quick fix. Dealing with the symptom.

It is worth wondering, isn’t it.. what does it mean to truly enable another. What does it take to ‘be with’ ourselves. Rather than distract, avoid, escape and a million things that we do. To avoid pain. And that is fine. Just being aware of that, gradually, in baby steps, we allow ourselves to feel, to see, to be. And open up then to the wonder of being alive.

19 Feb 2014

Close to 4 years after I wrote this blog, this appeared and it so speaks to the theme of this that I thought I must share this here:

“Just to sit – without expectation – with someone who is in grief or fear or loneliness or despair, without trying to fix them in any way, or manipulate their experience to match your idea of how it should be; just to listen, without playing the role of ‘expert’ or ‘enlightened guru’ or ‘the one who knows best’; just to be totally available to the one in front of you, and to walk with them through the fire, to hold their hand when they are broken – this is how we begin to heal each other through love.
Beyond our roles, unprotected, unresolved, undefended, we truly meet.”
Jeff Foster, this incredible man. (can click on Jeff – its a link to his Fb page!- sure to delight you if you liked this post)


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