Do we look our reflection?

A lizard can be caught with a hand, yet it is found in King’s palaces – Proverbs, 30:28

I came across this sentence from the Bible early this morning. It came in the form of an audio recording that my friend shares each day with a view to provide some succor and help me overcome a personal tragedy. The sentence, which the priest uses as a metaphor to explain our potential and how much of it is under wraps because of our lack of awareness, intrigued me.

lizardRight from our childhood, both the lizard and the spider do not figure anywhere near the top of our favorites amongst God’s creations. To the contrary, our immediate response to either of their presence in our vicinity is to either scream or look for handy broom. Therefore, having heard the audio cast, I began to recall my own tryst with these creepy-crawlies.

All of us have had our tryst with spiders and lizards from a young age, given that they were omnipresent at our homes, in classrooms, the lavatories and anywhere else that we could think of. The lizards would go about catching flies,  chasing each other on the walls and making chirping noises. The spiders were even less active – they’d merely spin a web and wait for their food to arrive! Essentially, both appeared  harmless and just went about their business of existing. Yet, we respond to them violently! Sometimes, even more so than how we may react to wild animals in a forest.

What makes us do so? Because they are ugly and at the same time scary to look at. Now, if we were to set our eyes on a snake, in spite of our fear we do spare a moment to marvel at the magnificence of this creation of nature. The same holds good for the mighty lion, the terrific tiger or any of the other carnivores. What differentiates the spider and the lizard is their ugliness.

And yet, they make their way into any dwelling unit – something that none of the other magnificent creations can quite manage. This is essentially what the Bible is referring to in terms. Despite being despised by everyone, these creatures make the King’s palace or the President’s Estate their own.  They can crawl across walls, take over dark corners and survive and thrive. Because, they have no challenge on the self esteem front or any undue fear of the King or the President. In fact, both the King and the President too would be scared of them.

Do we look our reflection?
Do we look our reflection?

So, how many times do we look into the mirror and feel uncomfortable about the face that peers back at us? Almost always! How else can we justify a booming multi-billion dollar global cosmetics business? Not to speak of the fast growing technology that helps us enhance our appearance through surgical procedures. Does it mean that we are constantly judging ourselves and comparing with others in our sphere of influence?

If so, do we beat ourselves for having a crooked nose or uneven lips? Shadows under our eyes perhaps? The challenge here is that appearances are not only deceptive but also short-lived. Often times we read about celebrities taking drug overdoses because they do not look the way they did in their youth. Is that how we judge ourselves? Does our appearance make us get low on our self-esteem?

The fact is that we aren’t really how we appear in that mirror. Nor can we be judged by our worldly possessions. To really understand ourselves, we need to look beyond that mirror and see what we believe ourselves to be. Just as a spider sheds it tail when a predator attempts to catch it, we must be able to shed our inhibitions as well as the beliefs that make us feel low on our self esteem.

Think about it…

How many times do we start believing something just because someone else has said so? 

And how often do such beliefs come in the way of our unleashing our latent potential? 

— Raj Narayan

Nature never hurries. So why do we?

During a recent visit to the pristine Wayanad forest reserves in Kerala, I decided to take over the wheels of our car. The changeover happened at a particularly scenic location on the Karnataka-Kerala border.

As the journey progressed, my friend veered away from the topic of our discussion (something to do with our respective workplaces) and began pointing out appealing visuals. He spotted a particularly green stretch on a mountainside, a uniquely curvaceous road traversing through the hillside, a lonely elephant having breakfast behind bushes, a bird with an extended tail…

Having set a pre-defined timeframe for arriving at our destination, I gently reproached my friend, suggesting that my attempt to enjoy nature’s bounty around the countryside may result in delays or even an unsavory mishap. And, we went back to discussing our workplaces.

Upon reaching our destination, we went about our daily chores of having lunch, chatting up with friends, having our share of intoxicants and then hitting the bed, all within the designated timeframes.

It was only after I spread out on a comfortable bed and began to ponder over the 350-km journey that awareness came. What, if anything, did I recall of those six hours? I could hardly recollect any of our chatter about our workplace; there was little I recalled of the food we had or our interactions with people; and there was precious little I remembered of the scenery that passed me by.

All that I remembered from the journey was a spate of speed humps and the grumpiness I felt at being forced to reduce speed (of my car). The sense of loss was overpowering.

Could I have done things differently, I asked myself. And, the thoughts flooded back in – of the bliss-invoking scenery; the quaint villages and its innocent inhabitants; the winding roads traversing up and around green hillocks; the occasional automobile that we passed by (as against traffic chaos in the city)…

Realization was instantaneous. I was hurrying through life because of a silly deadline that I had set for myself. I felt silly because I wanted to adhere to my friend’s past experience of reaching the destination within a prescribed time. In the process I missed all that was important to me on a holiday.

The question that I have now is: Are we hurrying up through life? If so, can we do it slowly?

Because, nature never hurries and yet everything is accomplished!

— Raj Narayan

anger2

Anger is possibly one of the most misunderstood of human emotions. Right from our childhood, we are taught that anger destructs – be it a conversation, a relationship, or even a society. The often used argument is that this is one emotion that can hurt another when displayed and hurt oneself when controlled.

Spiritual leaders and thinkers have waxed eloquent on this topic. While the Buddha says that ‘anger is like acid that hurts the vessel it is carried in’, Jesus Christ says ‘I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother, will be subject to judgment.’ Krishna explains to Arjuna that “There are three gates leading to hell – lust, greed and anger.’ while the Quran describes “Uncontrolled anger as one of the tools of the Devil that can lead to many evils and tragedies.’

anger

Given these definitions across various religious texts, it is no surprise that of all the human emotions, anger is always listed as an overwhelming favorite amongst the ‘bad emotions’. Of course, this begs the question: “If anger is so bad, what prompted Nature to make it a part of the human system? Gestalt Therapy originator defines anger as one of only four emotions that humans are capable of, the other being grief, joy and sex (affection).

While the world has been brainwashed about the ill-effects of anger, there is also another side to it that is quite noteworthy. Dr. Richard McHugh, one of the early adapters of neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) and who was responsible for introducing this technique of observing mind-patterns in India explains thus: “Anger has two parts – one that expresses a want and the other a feeling of churn. It is that churning feeling that accompanies a feeling of disappointment when we fail to fulfill our wants that is perceived as anger.”

So, what does one do when anger strikes? The first step obviously is to observe the patterns of our mind that generated this feeling. This way we become aware of what is causing our anger, thus making it easier to handle. The two steps of managing anger could be as follows:

  1. Become aware of what your real need or want is
  2. Be flexible and seek out the various options to obtain it

A classic working model of this theory is recited by none other than Mahatma Gandhi. When he was thrown out of a first-class carriage at Pietermaritzburg train station on a cold night, he was angry at the discrimination meted out to him. He refused to surrender his ticket and also refused to accept his destiny. In his autobiography, Gandhi describes that day as the one that ‘changed his life’ as also that of the colored people of South Africa.

The story of Swami Vivekananda asking India to step out of slavery imposed by the British is well documented. It was his anger at his own people that made a young Narendranath step out of a comfortable home provided by affluent parents and wage a war against discrimination – a battle that was later adapted by Gandhi, who approached it via non-violence while others like Bhagat Singh and Azad used different means.

anger2

However, the emotion that triggered reactions in all these people was indeed anger. So, we can safely say that contrary to existing belief, anger does connect with people – when channeled properly.

With this understanding, let us go back to the religious text and read on…

  1.  Lord Buddha says, “Holding on to anger is like grasping a burning coal to throw at another. You are the one who gets burnt.
  2. Here is what Jesus goes on to state: “Stand before the Lord as your gracious Judge and ask yourself: “What am I angry about? Why am I angry? What is an honest and gracious way to deal with this?” Then seek to resolve the conflict that angers you and do so in love…”
  3. Krishna says later on that: “If the mind continuously runs after  worldly things then it gets disturbed when the thing of desire is not attained. When the mind gets disturbed in this way then anger arouses in the mind and it leads to negative consequences only.”
  4. The Quran says thus: “Anger is often associated with ‘fight or flight responses’, it is often difficult to separate an action that is done to protect ourselves from one that is done out of uncontrolled rage.   It is ok to feel anger but it is not acceptable to let it control you.”

Given these simple doctrines, we can safely conclude that every emotion that a human experiences is there for a specific purpose. And so is anger.

I would conclude this blog with these words uttered by Mahatma Gandhi: “I have learned through bitter experience the one supreme lesson to conserve my anger, and as heat conserved is transmuted into energy,even so our anger controlled can be transmuted into a power that can move the world.”
Now my question to you is this: Do you recall any event in your life where anger made you connect – either with yourself or with others – and lead to positive outcomes? 
(Do write to me at leoslobo@gmail.com)
BlameGame 2

Continuing with our treatise on the ‘blame’ frame of mind, I recall reading this excellent book by Dr. Carlo Alasko titled “Emotional Bullshit”. The author lists out denial, delusion and blame as the ‘toxic trio’ of invisible diseases that is affecting every aspect of our lives – from bedrooms to boardrooms and beyond.

A practical psychotherapist for over three decades, Dr. Carlo cites three examples to prove his point.

  • Denial: My girlfriend enjoys a good time at parties. But, doesn’t have a drinking problem
  • Decoded: There is no problem. Everything is okay. You’re exaggerating
  • Delusion: Working late isn’t a problem. My family will understand when I get a raise
  • Decoded: I will tell you what’s true. Don’t believe what you see. Just believe me.
  • Blame: He knew I hated sloppiness when we married. Why can’t he pick up things and be neat?
  • Decoded: You’re the problem. I was forced to do it; I had no choice

That these examples are all from the personal space isn’t a coincidence. The good doctor argues that our behaviors within the confines of our homes end up driving the way we interact with our colleagues at work. Let’s take a typical example of how the blame frame plays out at work…

Something that our team does causes a break in the process and results in rather unfortunate outcomes. Believe it or not, our first effort is to investigate the cause of the problem. Sometimes even at the risk of forgetting the stakeholder(s) who got affected the most and who probably need instant solutions to overcome it. The ‘customer first’ philosophy is the first casualty.

The fact-finding mission almost always ends up with one or several doorsteps where the blame could be laid out comfortably. Of course, the sole exception to this process is when that doorstep happens to belong to our boss or his boss!

Jokes apart, the next step is usually a no-holds barred exercise where each member of the team starts pointing fingers at each other. The smarter amongst the team may cite precedents, indicating that two wrongs could make a right. It is a no-holds-barred CMP (cover-my-posterior) exercise.

Eventually, the blame gets deflected – either to the weakest of the team or to some person or circumstance on which we have no control (authority) over… like one’s boss or the power outage or network downtime etc. etc.

The deflection game continues till a point where status quo is reached or a new problem surfaces. In some of the participants in this charade, there is a sense of satisfaction while a majority of those involved feel rising levels of frustration and anger.

Can you imagine how the situation would have changed had each of the stakeholders in the above situation apportioned some of the blame to themselves? Instead of frustration and anger, the dominant feeling would be satisfaction and relief.

More importantly, each person at the table would have carried home a thought that would have helped her or him tackle a similar scenario in a better fashion.

Because, the only power we have is to change ourselves!

— By Leo Lobo

The story of George Washington cutting down a cherry tree and owning up is legendary. Of course, historians and researchers are now claiming that such an incident might not have happened in the life of the first President of the United States of America.

Something similar happened with me as a child when I set fire to some currency notes without realizing its impact. When asked by my grandma, I too owned up but suggested that my cousins prompted me to do it. My granny’s response was epic. “I am not concerned about the burnt currency. My worry is that you blamed others when it was you who lit the match. Remember, each time you point your index finger at somebody, there are three other fingers pointing back at you.”

blame

This statement stayed with me all the while, though it took me several years to fathom its true meaning. For instance, I wasn’t sure how I could not blame chaotic traffic for my stress? Or how could I not crib about my boss who kept changing his mind too often? What about the callousness displayed my children when it came to studies? And, the list went on and on…

It took me quite some time to realize that all these statements depicted a penchant for blaming another. I was pointing my finger at others while ignoring the fact that three other fingers were pointing back at me. For e.g., traffic is a reality in our modern cities and I cannot complain about it because essentially I am that traffic. So, what is my outcome? Have a stress-free drive to work. How do I achieve it? By leaving home before the peak hour sets in.

The same can be applied to the other complaints that I listed here. My boss changes his mind because I am unable to influence his thoughts. As for the kids’ behavior, I reframed my concerns into questions for myself… Is my fear for their future causing me to stress? Am I passing on this stress to them? Am I underestimating their capabilities or overestimating them?

Because, when you blame others, you give up your power to change!

Cities have ‘car-free’ days to encourage public transport and reduce pollution and traffic, dietician suggests fat-free diets, and organizations have ethnic days. Can we add a ‘Complaint-Free’ day to this list?

Of course, this exercise would have to be exclusively managed by each of us as individuals. Let’s dedicate one day per week when we stop complaining about traffic, garbage, our managers, our children, our in-laws.

What do you think will happen when we give up our favorite pastime?

Instead, we spend the day feeling grateful for all that we possess in terms of health, wealth, relationships and above all Life.

— By Raj Narayan

blamer

— By Prof. Leo Lobo

All of us would have heard this refrain several times in our personal and professional lives. Remember your tentative steps into the swimming pool or the day you sat behind the steering wheel of the car for the first time? Or, when your boss wanted you to attempt a task that you are not used to?

So, what is it that makes the butterflies in the stomach work overtime during such first time activities? Also, do these butterflies take it easy as you grow older? Because, you have experienced several instances of having to do something for the first time.

Before attempting to answer these queries, let me share with you a recent experience.  This event in my life  led me to understand the fear factor better. In fact, it brought me closer to the butterflies in my stomach.

On a  visit to the national capital, my friend handed me the wheels of his SUV and asked me to drive around in some congested localities. Having gotten used to being driven around by him on previous visits, my first reaction was to seek options, including hiring a cab or requesting him to chauffeur me.

Blame-frame

I could feel the butterflies getting active. So, I sat down and attempted to understand this feeling. What was worrying me now? I had driven vehicles for close to four decades and done so without a single mishap. I had driven in India and overseas. I had been behind the wheels of several cars.

The penny dropped! I realized that I had never driven an SUV. Not in my home city of Bangalore, not on empty roads. So, getting behind the wheels of this big vehicle on streets as chaotic as the National Capital Region (NCR) was unthinkable. On top of this, I recalled the tough drive on a previous occasion where it took us close to an hour to cover a few miles.

Once the feeling passed, I picked up the keys and strode confidently to the SUV, which handled exactly the way I wanted it to. What’s more, the drive took me a mere 14 minutes and the distance covered was exactly the same as the previous time. No smoke, no choke, no tension and no stress!

By now, I am sure you would’ve realized that my second question got answered. Butterflies in the stomach make no concession for one’s age or experience!

As for the first question, the answer is obvious, isn’t it? We suffer when we get choked by past experience. Come to think of it, even lack of past experience makes things tough. For, in such instances, we imagine the future. Before even thinking about driving, my mind told me that an SUV was not a sedan and that driving in Delhi was tougher than driving in Bangalore.

Delving into this feeling some more, I realized that the reasons that caused my reluctance was somehow getting pinned into a complaint – about the SUV being bigger and the traffic being more chaotic, both that I wasn’t used to.

Therefore, the question that I want to pose now are these:

  • Can we give up complaining about external factors?
  • Can we become aware of the outcome instead?

In case you’ve answers to the above or more questions, do write in to me at leo@www.novaindia.net